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Canada Task Force 1 called in to rescue hundreds trapped by landslides on B.C. highway

Fifty children were among those trapped overnight by the two slides on Highway 7, between Agassiz and Hope.
Dozens of vehicles were trapped Sunday, Nov. 15, 2021, between two landslides on Highway 7 near Agassiz. ADAM WUISMAN, PNG

Canada Task Force 1 has been deployed to Agassiz to aid in a massive evacuation effort, following two separate landslides that hit Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope Sunday evening.

The two slides trapped 275 terrified people, including 50 children, overnight.

Agassiz Fire Department responded to the slides along with Hope SAR Sunday night and were able to rescue 12 people, whose vehicles were trapped by debris, according to a Canada Task Force 1 bulletin Monday.

Those who were trapped in vehicles were advised to shelter in place overnight as the debris was unstable and unsafe to cross.

A reconnaissance team including CAN-TF1, Chilliwack SAR, and a geotechnical engineer are surveying the area from the air to assess the debris and determine if additional victims may be trapped in the debris.

CAN-TF1 says the priority is evacuating those trapped between the slides, and Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopters are starting the first of multiple rescue flights between the slide area and a reception centre in Agassiz.

CAN-TF1 has a team of 34 members in the slide area to coordinate and triage the air evacuation, while Agassiz Fire Department is managing care once at the reception centre.

There’s not much along the mountainous stretch of highway between Agassiz and Hope, just a few houses and a Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation art gallery.

But when two landslides landlocked more than 80 drivers and families along the road Sunday night, the gallery immediately opened its doors to any strangers in need.

“We are so grateful,” said Angel Claypool, her husband, and two teenage children, ages 13 and 15, who were fed in the early hours of Monday and now sit nestled together in the parking lot.

The family had spent more than 12 sleepless hours stationary in their truck on rain-drenched Highway 7 before hunger set in and they went back in search of food or water.

“We turned back on the eastbound lane — there were no gas stations, grocery stores, no nothing, but we saw the Sq’ewá:lxw building had its lights on,” the mother said.

As soon as the family pulled up near the gallery Claypool and her children were offered a warm place to sit and a breakfast of toast, oatmeal, coffee and water.

“We feel safe here and plan on staying until help comes,” Claypool said. “When we left relatives in 100 Mile House it was clear skies and dry roads. We only packed snacks thinking it would be a normal commute home.”

Dozens of other cars are now parked outside of the First Nations building. Some stayed in the building overnight, sleeping on mattresses laid out. Others popped by for a time to stay warm.

“We’re trying to stay positive for our kids,” Claypool said, mentioning the Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation is running low on food and supplies to offer stranded motorists.

“I hope the government figures out how to get us out or bring in supplies.”