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Feature - Flirting with natural disasters

The Sea to Sky corridor has all kinds of hazards. Are we doing enough to prevent a disaster?



As the freezing raging waters of Rutherford Creek rose over Casey Burnette’s head he had little time to reflect on how his car was on the highway one minute and in the water the next.

All he knew was that he had to stay calm, and get out of the car. And he had to find his brother Jamie and friend Ed Elliot who were in the car with him when it plunged into the water.

Burnette made it to shore and clung to a stump for hours that cold foggy October 18 morning, until he could get to the highway and flag down a driver for help.

His brother and Elliot never made it out of the creek.

"It is always going through my mind driving down that road," said Burnette this week as he reflected on living in an area subject to all manner of natural hazards including the type of debris flow which washed out the Rutherford Creek Bridge last year.

"You can’t really predict what is going to happen next so there is a lot of respect for that road there now, especially for myself anyway."

At the time Casey said: "Immediately when I hit the water I was in a spin cycle.

"Upside down, all around. I didn’t know what was up, didn’t know where I was going, it was dark.

"I was fortunate. I took five or six breaths. I didn’t know if I was above the water or below, but I got enough air to carry myself to shore."

He recalled how his brother had told him not to panic and to take several deep breaths before heading out of the car to the surface of the river.

Despite enduring this disaster Burnette said he loves living in Sea to Sky country.

"It is a risk but I like living here," he said.

"I love the mountains. I can’t beat it."

Two other young men also lost their lives that night as their car drove into Rutherford Creek, and in the days following more than 1,200 people were forced to flee their homes in Pemberton and Squamish as rivers rose and their muddy debris-strewn waters filled basements and washed away cars.

For research scientist Bob Turner of Geological Survey of Canada there is nothing like a disaster to make people pay attention to the world around them.

"It is human nature that we learn best from disasters," said Turner speaking in Whistler recently week about the natural hazards of the Sea to Sky corridor.

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