B.C. community trapped for a week behind massive, creeping landslide now displaced indefinitely
Inside the evacuation thestar.com
“I’VE BEEN EATING DIRT BALLS EVERY DAY FOR A LONG TIME. THIS IS JUST ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE.” Gord Pardy, Old Fort resident
OLD FORT, B.C.—THE early risers who jumped in their cars on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 30 were the first to notice something was wrong in Old Fort, B.C. The only road leading to or from this small subdivision of roughly 40 homes just southeast of Fort St. John had begun to crack, ripple and buckle. community resident Caroline Alexander says she knew it was more than just a crack in Old Fort Rd.
“We saw the writing on the wall,” Alexander recalls.
She and fellow resident Scott Campbell were some of the first evacuees from Old Fort that Sunday, even before an evacuation alert had been issued by the Peace River Regional District.
After packing some basic necessities, they carefully piloted their vehicles through the ditch and around the oncoming mass of earth before it blocked the area off completely.
Hour by hour the road continued to peak and trench, folding over itself like grey ribbon while metre-high fissures were torn into the concrete.
During the next week, the once-familiar northern face of the hills would sag and drop to the valley floor, turning more than six million cubic metres of earth into a slow-moving barrier inching across the road and through the forest on both sides.
“Like an iceberg,” is a phrase residents repeatedly use to describe watching the entirety of that cloven hill advance toward the remaining roadside. A smaller peak to its west disappeared entirely, crumbling into the slide area over the course of those first few days.
But residents soon learned it would be more than a few days of inconvenience and, with no indication of how long they will be displaced, Old Fort is a community staring into the unknown.
A six-propellor drone buzzes to life and takes off from the Peace River lookout, just beyond the southern boundary of Fort St. John.
From a perch on a narrow ridge outside the parking lot fence, the machine can be seen descending into the valley below, taking a slow tour of the cracked hill side.
The drone operators are tightlipped about what they’re looking for. “You better refer those questions to the Ministry of Transportation,” they patiently reply to each question.
But their machine — along with low-flying helicopters — remains in the air almost constantly, floating over the landslide, the hillside, and the community of Old Fort.
And whatever these machines see will remain invisible to those on the wrong side of the mass of debris.
Telus cuts the fibre optic cable to Old Fort on Thursday morning, hamstringing the ability of some residents to monitor online updates from the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) — the local authority responsible for Old Fort — on what to expect, or who might be working on a solution.
For some residents the landslide has become the latest in a series of hard knocks coming after plummeting oil prices left many in the resource-dependant region looking for work.
“You want to talk about dirt balls?” Old Fort resident Gord Pardy says. “I’ve been eating dirt balls every day for a long time. This is just another one of those.”
More than a week after the landslide cut off access to Old Fort, B.C., the only road accessing the small community continues to tear and buckle.
Longtime Old Fort resident Scott Campbell stands on the back of the slide itself, where an entire section of Old Fort Rd. has been lifted and moved down the valley by the moving mass of earth.