The Peace River Regional District has ordered the entire area of Old Fort evacuated, a week after a slow-moving landslide cut off the only road to the small community in northeastern B.C. — but at least one resident says some refuse to leave.
In a statement, the district said the order was issued because of an “immediate danger to life” due to a slow-moving landslide that struck last Sunday about one kilometre away from the main part of the community, which has about 30 homes and about 200 residents.
The community is about a 15-minute drive south of Fort St. John, flanked by large hills in a valley running alongside the Peace River. Landslides are common in the area.
This landslide has wiped out the only road leading in and out of Old Fort, about one kilometre away from the homes, and the Peace River District says there now appears to be some instability in the part of the hill directly behind the homes as the slide continues to slowly shift.
The district has issued previous evacuation orders and alerts to a number of properties throughout the week.
Resident Gord Pardy says power to the community has been on and off throughout the week as the slide has shifted and crews have attempted to restore services.
“I’m very angry. I’m extremely angry. And it’s because we’ve been living through this process where it seems like nobody is in control of the situation,” Pardy said.
Boat taxis and buses for evacuees
Boat taxis and buses will be transporting evacuees along the Peace River and then by bus to a reception centre at the Pomeroy Sport Centre in Fort St. John, just north of Old Fort.
The district says domestic animals — including dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils and fish — will be allowed on the boat taxis and buses if they are caged or on a leash.
That’s not of much help to Pardy and his wife, Bobbi, who own a 32-year-old horse they don’t expect would survive the journey.
“We’re going to fight for it,” Bobbi Pardy said.
The district said residents should not return home until the order is rescinded. But Gord Pardy said he is one of many residents who have no intention of leaving.
Pardy doesn’t deny the slide is a big deal — but he doesn’t think his home is at any risk because the slide is moving so slowly and he says it doesn’t appear to be affecting the area directly behind his home.
“I don’t think it’s going to get to my home. I’m worried about some of the homes that are on the edge of the community more than mine,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to get here and there’s no indication that the hill behind us is moving.”
Pardy says he’s also worried about keeping his home warm and safe. Temperatures have been dipping well below zero at night, he said, and it snowed Saturday night.
“My house will freeze. I’ve got to keep the heat on in the house,” he said.
“There’s many people that are going to be staying here and keeping an eye on things. I think that’s the best security we’re going to have.”
But a spokesperson for the regional district said staying put is a risky plan.
“We have an engineering geologist who has looked at the site and cannot guarantee life safety,” said Deborah Jones-Middleton, emergency operation centre director for the Peace River Regional District.
Landslide movement ‘unpredictable’
The landslide has been ripping up the earth near the small town since Sept. 30, knocking out heat, power and water for residents.
The district said a helicopter survey of the area found evidence of stress cracks and other signs of instability throughout the area.
It’s also posed a risk for crews, who aren’t able to access the area, the district said.
The district said the landslide’s movement remains “significant and unpredictable.” Recent snowfall has also reduced visibility.