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Life after the slide

It's been over a year since a Birken mudslide destroyed two area homes



More than a year since a mudslide near Pemberton devastated his family home and farm, Rob Elliott maintains a positive outlook on the life-altering experience.

"The bottom line is we have been overwhelmed with gratitude. This has just strengthened our connections everywhere. I have heard so many times over this year by so many different people that this event and the way the community responded has really restored their faith in people," he said. "Our loss of possessions is a tiny price to pay for that human service."

A Sept. 20, 2015 mudslide in Birken destroyed two homes and damaged four others. The slide completely buried Elliott's house, and the damage was so severe that his family will never be able to rebuild on the land.

But amidst all the devastation and continual headaches over insurance claims — the insurance company denied coverage, although the Elliotts were eligible for a provincial disaster fund that covered 80-per-cent of the assessed value of their home — was the overwhelming response from the community. A GoFundMe campaign raised over $50,000 for the Elliotts, and a Vancouver family donated their home just minutes away from the site of the slide. The Elliotts recently moved into a new house in D'Arcy.

"We had so much support and there's no room for us to feel bitter at all," Elliott said.

There was another silver lining to the slide: thanks to a neighbour who donated his excavator, the Elliotts were able to track down several sentimental items from their destroyed home they never thought they'd recover, including the wedding ring of Rob's wife's grandmother that the couple plans to someday gift to their four-year-old son.

"I would go back to the site after it rained, because the rain would clear the mud and I could see exposed items, and there sitting on this rock was the third piece of the ring," Elliott recalled. "It was so much crazier than a needle in a haystack."

Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) emergency program manager Ryan Wainwright said it's difficult for the district to prepare for landslides due to "the expense of those projects and the fact that most of those hazards exist on Crown land," but that the SLRD has stepped up its disaster response capacity in the wake of last year's slide. To that end, the SLRD has hired a part-time analyst to "help us transition from an older model of emergency planning to a newer community-based approach that really engages with community members to find out what hazards are top of mind and then to assist the communities in putting together plans to address those risks."

The regional district also began offering an emergency response app, ePact, last year that communicates important information to participating residents like evacuation orders and road closures in the event of a major emergency. About a third of SLRD's residents have signed on to the program, Wainwright said.