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Meager Creek landslide forces evacuations

14 campers safe after rescue by helicopters

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About 14 campers had to be airlifted from a campground near Meager Creek Hot Springs Friday following a two kilometer-wide avalanche that has devastated the area.

The slide happened around 7 a.m. Friday with the debris blocking Meager Creek.

Police don't believe anybody was hit by the sliding mass of muddy debris.

Local helicopter pilots helped airlift the campers to nearby Pemberton where they remain. There are no reported injuries.

An emergency flood alert has been issued for Mount Currie after the landslide dammed parts of the Lillooet River.

"We're on alert right now, of course," said Chief Leonard Andrew of the Mount Currie band.

Three homes in the immediate vicinity have reportedly been evacuated as a result of the incident.

Whistler RCMP Sgt. Shawn Lemay told the National Post that a glacier atop Capricorn Mountain gave way, causing the slide.

Meager Creek flows northeast into the Lillooet River, and is known for a series of hot-spring pools on its banks.

The dammed creek is a "substantial stream," according to SFU earth sciences professor John Clague. A previous landslide in the same area created a lake with water flowing over the dam. There wasn't a flood last time but Clague said there could be this time. He said the potential for flood is bigger than in 1998 or the 2009 flood that wiped out the Capricorn bridge.

The area is very prone to landslides as mountain face is made of very loose volcanic rock. Clague said the surface is "very prone to failure to begin with" and has a long history of geological instability.

A flood swept through the Meager Creek hot springs in 1985, damaging cars and bridges and forcing the rescue of visitors by helicopter. And in 1975, four consulting geologists doing geothermal studies for BC Hydro were buried in an avalanche at nearby Devastation Creek.

Meager creek has been closed since the 2009 flood and, according to Don Pitcairn of Whistler Hot Springs, it was supposed to be reopened to the public in a week's time. Instead, the tourist-friendly campground is "basically gone. So is the road in and around that zone is gone."

Whistler Hot Springs provides tours of Meager Creek Hot Springs and the nearby Skookumchuk Hot Springs. Pitcairn's entire business was originally built around the Meager Creek Hot Springs and surrounding areas. Now, he said, he may need to cut his losses.

"It's one of those 'Oh well' situations."

The landslide occurred on a dormant volcano, the northernmost point in a chain that includes Mount St. Helens and Mount Garibaldi. Clague said there is still some volcanic activity - hence the hot springs - but the chance of eruption is very low.

 

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