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Learning to live with natural disasters

In the Sea to Sky corridor there is a constant threat of landslides, floods and earthquakes. Are we doing enough to prevent a natural disaster?



In 2004 Pique investigated the status of natural disaster preparedness in the corridor. Eight years on, on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the devastating Mt. Meager slide near Pemberton, writer Dawn Green looks at the continuing challenges facing Sea to Sky municipalities, alongside significant wins for public safety.

It was raining so hard on the evening of Oct. 28, 1981 that Gina Boscariol — who was driving south to North Vancouver on Highway 99 — considered turning around.

"The leaves were blowing over the road, the power was out and you couldn't see in front of you. It was a spooky night," she recalls. Gina made it to the city that night unscathed, but her sister, Tami, 19, was not as fortunate. She was also on the highway that night, approximately half an hour after Gina.

Meanwhile, on the west flank of Brunswick Mountain at the 1,500-metre level, the heavy rain proved too much for an insignificant creek — super-saturated, its banks collapsed. Beginning as a mudslide, it sucked up mud and debris and hurtled down the mountainside at an alarming rate of 80 kilometres per hour, bearing straight for M Creek Bridge, three kilometres north of Lions Bay. The wooden trestle bridge didn't stand a chance against the wall of rapidly moving mud, six-metres high.

When the bridge collapsed, creating an 18-metre gap, it took a car and its passengers with it plunging down the face of the mountain. With the bridge gone a yawning maw remained and into its depth went other vehicles before the alarm was called around 12:30 a.m. In total, nine people died, including Tami and her boyfriend Wayne Short.

"The worst part was not knowing," says Gina, noting that it wasn't until Nov. 16, when Short's truck with two bodies inside was found in 80 metres of water in Howe Sound, just off the mouth of M Creek, that doubt was laid to rest for good

"It was disastrous — it couldn't have been any worse," says Tami's mom, Anne, 31 years on from that day. "We think of her every day."

Could more have been done to prevent this disaster?

Her father Willie thinks so.

He took part in the inquest into the tragedy — one of the worst disasters in B.C.'s highway history. With his extensive logging experience, Willie helped assess the cause of the slide. He and three other loggers were flown up the mountain and he couldn't believe what they saw.

"It was just a mess up there, with stumps and debris in the creek," he recalled, adding that when the logging occurred there was no highway below.

"They should have done something before they built a highway. They should have had a look up there because it was a disaster waiting to happen."