‘DIF­FI­CULT NEWS’

B.C. com­mu­nity trapped for a week be­hind mas­sive, creep­ing land­slide now dis­placed in­def­i­nitely

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - PER­RIN GRAUER

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.”

PER­RIN GRAUER/STARMETRO VAN­COU­VER

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.

PER­RIN GRAUER/STARMETRO VAN­COU­VER

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.

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