Experts assessing Old Fort landslide; boats arranged for evacuees

The province says it's working around the clock to solve the crisis left in the wake of a landslide in the Old Fort neighbourhood outside Fort St. John.

A hillside starting slipping sometime overnight on Sunday and has blocked the only road in and out of the neighbourhood, leaving roughly 50 homes stranded and without power as of Monday afternoon. The slide is also carrying away part of a gravel pit as it moves toward the Peace River.

"We understand that people who live in the Old Fort community are cut off, and we are working around the clock to find a solution," a spokesperson for the ministry of transportation and infrastructure said in an email.

"We want to assure the community that we are doing everything possible to open this road as soon as it’s safe to do so."

It's not known just how many residents are stuck in their homes, or whether any property has been damaged or is in the path of the landslide.

The Peace River Regional District has issued an evacuation alert and has said it will arrange safe transportation for any residents who want to leave the area immediately.

Starting at 3 p.m., boats are available to transport people from the beach behind the house at 8711 Old Fort Loop. The boats will continue to come to the community until all the people that want to leave have left. A bus will meet the boat at the Taylor Boat launch to take them to the reception centre. 

No residents have asked to be evacuated just yet, however, it's not known if some residents have already left on their own accord in another way, a spokesperson said. 

The logistics of an evacuation plan is still being co-ordinated, and the regional district's emergency operations centre will recommend to the board whether to issue an evacuation order, based on information from agency partners.

"They're assessing it hour by hour," the spokesperson said.

Staff are on standby and organizing to be prepared for a full evacuation, and to help residents who choose to leave during the alert. 

The hillside on the north bank of the Peace River slipped sometime overnight on Sunday, Sept. 30, and continues to move. It's damaged and covered a section of the Old Fort Road, the only road in and out of the neighbourhood.

Preliminary field and air assessments were completed Sunday and the ministry has said the slide could take days to stabilize and stop before repairs can begin.

"Landslide specialists are on-site this afternoon. Once they have conducted further assessments, we will be able to provide more updates," the ministry spokesperson said.

Resident Gord Pardy said the earth seems to be slowly slumping away from the hillside.

"If you can imagine a lava flow coming across, but (this) has sort of come under the road and lifted the road and pushed it," he said. 

Most people in Old Fort have switched from wood stoves to electrical heat, he said, adding that residents also depend on regular deliveries of water by truck.

"Everybody's going to run out of water," he said.

One local company, Rock Bottom Industries, has offered to ferry residents and even supplies by boat.

"I can only take two at a time right now, but if need be I’m sure I can get other boats involved," Stacey Loewen said. 

An evacuation order was issued Sunday for the Peace River lookout and lands directly south and southeast, including a gravel pit sitting precariously near the edge of the slide.

Pardy said the gravel pit appears to be "split in half, half of it is sliding down the hill."

"The trees make a lot of noise, they're popping and cracking. The pavement falls. The dirt's moving. A big chunk of the hillside has just moved down 50 feet. Amazing."

The landslide and Old Fort neighbourhood is roughly two kilometres downstream of the Site C dam construction site.

BC Hydro says it is monitoring the situation with on-site officials.

"At this time, there is no evidence that the slide is related to #SiteC or any of the work taking place on the project," the company wrote on Twitter.

BC Hydro officials could not be immediately reached for follow up Monday afternoon. 

— with files from the Canadian Press

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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Old Fort landslide, Sept. 30, 2018. - Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
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Old Fort landslide, Oct. 1, 2018. - YRB North Peace
oldfortlandslide
Old Fort landslide, Oct. 1, 2018. - YRB North Peace
oldfortlandslide
Old Fort landslide, Oct. 1, 2018. - YRB North Peace
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