As of noon on Wednesday work crews started the process of removing an estimated 16,000 cubic metres of debris that spilled over the Sea to Sky Highway in a massive rockslide. The slide happened at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening, but work to clear the highway couldn’t get underway until provincial geotechnical experts were satisfied that there was no slide risk to crews.
Photos of the slide show huge boulders strewn across both sides of the highway, across the train tracks and over the water after a 100-metre section of bluffs over Porteau Cove collapsed. The highway could be closed until Thursday.
Dave Crebo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said he had not heard of any injuries related to the slide and as of Wednesday nobody has been reported missing. RCMP dogs were at the scene, sniffing for people that may have been trapped in the slide.
One vehicle, a northbound bus with one passenger, was just missed by the slide, as the first rocks rained down and smashed the windows on one side of the bus.
The CN Rail tracks were also taken out by the slide, and it will likely be several days before rail traffic can continue.
Crebo also confirmed the slide happened in an area where Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project work is not currently taking place, which rules out blasting as the cause.
Crebo could not say whether the rain contributed to the slide, or how often the slopes along Highway 99 are checked by crews.
“I know the area is prone to slides, it’s a very rugged area and we do look at it regularly, but I’m not sure if that exact area has had a slide before,” he said.
“Next summer, 2009, I know we will be making a concentrated effort, as much as humanly possible, to make sure the entire highway is secure with rock scaling slope stabilization in advance of 2010. Everything possible is being done to make sure this type of event doesn’t happen during the Olympics.”
People heading to or from Whistler still have options to get to Vancouver, including Helijet, charter flights to Pemberton Airport, float plane flights to Green Lake, and the long way around — up Highway 99 to Cache Creek, and south on Highway 97.