A resident of a condo two buildings away from Jan. 17’s landslide on the Island Highway says he lives in fear of that hillside collapsing.
“Something needs to done about reinforcing that hillside before it comes down,” Robert Slade says.
On the night of the slide behind 738 South Island Highway Tuesday, Jan. 17, Slade said he could hear “the crackling and popping echo through the buildings at night during the rains and winds. It sounded like hail hitting hard plastic cups. It didn’t sound like normal rain.”
Slade said there are “giant trees” atop the embankment behind the row of condominiums on the Island Highway that eagles perch on and nest in and they need to come down. He believes one of these trees caused last week’s disaster.
He assumed the sounds he heard Jan. 17 were roots letting go on that tree. He said the sounds could be heard over a few days prior to the incident.
“It could have been gravel rolling down the hill as the tree or ground cover slowly let go,” Slade said.
On the rainy night Jan. 17 when the slide occurred, Slade could hear firemen banging on peoples’ sliding glass doors to evacuate them. Slade said he banged on some of the doors in his building closest to the hill and let them know they should be prepared if they need to be evacuated.
“I filled my vehicle with the things I thought were important and lay in the dark, listening for that crackle through a sleepless night,” Slade said.
Slides are not uncommon on this long hillside. Slade said one smaller one broke through the back fence of the building he lives in a few years ago and the slide at 738 Island Highway South was not the only slide that night. Another smaller one occurred nearby but did not cause any damage.
David Huntley of the Geological Survey of Canada told CTV that the “whole slope has a high susceptibility of a landslide or a debris slump.”
The city declared a State of Local Emergency Jan. 19 as a temporary emergency measure to support public safety and ensure access to properties is available to the city. A temporary evacuation order has been in place for 738 Island Highway South and an evacuation alert for surrounding properties including 758 Island Highway south.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, the City of Campbell River lifted the evacuation order put in place for 738 Island Highway South. Residents were notified immediately and were able to return home. The evacuation alert already in place for surrounding buildings was extended to include 738 Island Highway South.
Before allowing residents to return, a cleanup operation took place and debris was removed from the site. The city continues to work with geotechnical engineers to further investigate the slide, and the State of Local Emergency (SOLE) remains in place while the investigation is underway. Under BC’s Emergency Program Act, a declared SOLE gives the city the authority to cause the evacuation of persons from the area and enter the impacted area.
“Thank you to the residents of the affected buildings for their patience and cooperation as the city completed the necessary work to ensure it was safe to return to the site. We are extremely glad that residents were able to return to their homes over the weekend,” says Drew Hadfield, Director of Operations. “I’d also like to thank the supporting agencies, staff and volunteers for their incredible efforts to make the return happen as efficiently as possible.”
The city will provide updates as the investigation continues. For the latest updates, visit www.campbellriver.ca.
Meanwhile, Slade, who suffers from health issues, lives in fear of the hillside because it could ultimately force him and others into homelessness. If the hill comes down again, residents in the area may have to find new housing. Right now, Slade lives in a barely affordable rental unit that he’s been in for a number of years. Other units in the building rent for over double what he is paying. He feels he couldn’t afford to rent anywhere else on his small WCB pension.
“The stress of my current health combined with COVID and now having to live with constant fear of a large landslide with no means of finding an affordable place to live elsewhere is wearing me thin,” he said.