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Couple tough it out as mudslides hit northeast of Pemberton

Ingrid and Greg Rebar fired up a generator and made do with some very muddy water when mudslides knocked out power and cut off the tiny community of D’Arcy on Sunday.
Pemberton Search and Rescue member Marc Kuiper (in blue) helps evacuate 30 stranded campers by helicopter on the south side of the Llillooet River on Monday, Sept. 21.

Ingrid and Greg Rebar fired up a generator and made do with some very muddy water when mudslides knocked out power and cut off the tiny community of D’Arcy on Sunday.

The Rebars — unlike most of their neighbours — had use of their phone, fridge and Wi-Fi when the lights went out, but that came thanks to their steadily decreasing supply of fuel.

There was no generator at the only gas station in the area and workers were unable to draw fuel from their tanks. By midday Monday, Ingrid figured she and her husband had just a few hours of gas left until they too would be without power.

Flooding and mudslides had closed all the roads into the communities of D’Arcy and Seton Portage, stranding hundreds of people. They also knocked out power to more than 250 people northeast of Pemberton.

By 3:45 p.m., just before the Rebars’ generator could sputter to a stop, the power kicked back on. By Monday evening, BC Hydro had restored electricity to all its customers in the area.

One of the slides covered about 200 to 300 metres of Portage Road near Birken to a depth of up to four metres. The slides hit three Hydro transmission towers and a small distribution line, as well as CN Rail tracks.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District declared a state of emergency because of two major slides into Gates Lake, and residents of six properties in Birken and several homes in Seton Portage and Shalalth were ordered to evacuate.

There are reports of some damage to those homes, but that had yet to be confirmed, according to a spokeswoman for the regional district. One unused seasonal cabin was destroyed in a slide, but no injuries were reported.

The Rebars’ home near Anderson Lake was snug and secure, but even they ran out of running water when the power went out since the pair rely on an electric pump at a nearby creek. They had thought ahead to set some water aside in case of an emergency, but it was not enough to cover a long power failure.

It also wasn’t enough to flush the toilet, so for that they relied on running water.

“You get a bucket of creek water that is absolute mud … It’s the colour of cappuccino from the slide,” Ingrid said.

Her husband Greg said they were lucky to have their generators, but gas — like water — can be sucked up quickly.

“You always think you’re prepared, but it’s very easy with a natural event like that to catch you with your jerry cans empty, so to speak,” he said.

With the power back on, Greg, a retired fisheries technician, turned his mind to how the flooding impacted the already meagre sockeye return in the region.

“What stocks were naturally spawning in Gates Creek, I would say have been completely washed out with this event,” he said.

Meanwhile, 30 campers near the Meager Creek Hot Springs on Lillooet River were stranded by the slides. A Pemberton Search and Rescue member was dropped off by helicopter Monday morning to brief them on evacuation protocols.

The campers were later flown out of the area in groups of five and bused to the Pemberton Community Centre, said Pemberton Search and Rescue manager Dave Steers.

“They were all in pretty good spirits,” Steers said after the campers were evacuated safely.

Jeannette Nadon, a spokeswoman for the regional district, said it was up to a geotechnical engineer to determine when it was safe for crews to begin work on reopening the roads. That assessment was ongoing late into the evening, according to Drive BC.

CN Rail is waiting to send crews into the area when it becomes possible.

“We have three locations where the rail corridor is impassable between Lillooet and Squamish,” said CNR spokesman Patrick Waldron. “We have crews gathering with equipment and when it is safe to proceed they will begin clearing the debris and doing restoration work.”

Rail traffic was diverted, Waldron said.

Meanwhile, the provincial River Forecast Centre ended its high streamflow advisory for the Lillooet River and surrounding streams. Water levels on the river peaked overnight but fell through the day. They are forecast to drop further over the next two days.