The RCMP is now reporting that there are more people missing in the mudslides on the Duffey Lake Road section of Highway 99 than previously believed.
It was reported earlier this week that two people were missing, while one person had been recovered deceased, a woman from the Lower Mainland.
“We can now confirm that we are now dealing with four missing persons reports related to that specific area and the slide,” said RCMP spokesperson Dawn Roberts at a media briefing by Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General and Emergency Management BC today, Nov. 18.
“The slide continues to be a challenging situation. The RCMP is working very closely with the Ministry of Transportation, EMBC, the BC Coroners Service and the Lillooet and Pemberton Search and Rescue teams.
“We want to ensure that the search of any missing persons is done as safely as we can. At this time, the number of identified, extracted and confirmed fatalities remains at one. However, we do know that number is likely to rise once we reach some specific areas.”
It's not clear when Duffey Lake Road will reopen to traffic, though the District of Lillooet posted on its Facebook page that it hopes the road will be open this weekend.
“Highway 99 to Pemberton (Duffey Lake Road) has been assessed by a geotechnical engineer and clearing has begun. The current estimated target opening is Sunday, Nov. 21,” stated the district’s social media post.
Said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming: “The Ministry of Transportation is working with search and rescue and RCMP on how we clear debris on the road without compromising any of the search and rescue activities that they need to do.”
This will include the use of privacy screening if necessary, said Paula Cousins, the Regional Executive Director at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“ ...We have been partnering all the way through with other agencies all through this difficult time as we get the roadway cleared and activities continue,” she said at the media briefing.
“We will work together to confirm the timing of reopening, and if recovery efforts are required beyond that, there will be privacy fencing and things in place to ensure the sensitivity of the recovery is protected and preserved.”
Roberts confirmed that RCMP continue to receive reports of missing people as a result of the storm of the century that B.C. experienced over three days last weekend. She asks that anyone who has not heard from loved ones reach out to their local RCMP so that an investigation can get underway.
“We still continue to receive a number of calls regarding potentially missing people, [but we are] not in position to confirm the actual numbers as it does fluctuate as we conduct those investigations and determine whether or not they are missing,” said Roberts.
Crews were called at around noon on Nov. 15 to the Duffey Lake Road after several vehicles were caught up in the mudslide 42 kilometres south of Lillooet. When teams arrived they found a debris field that had come down and blocked off highway access.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 16, rescuers had recovered one fatality from the wreckage, identified as the woman from the Lower Mainland. Crews worked until dark on Monday, before returning to the scene Tuesday morning. The search efforts remain ongoing.
The tragedy came amid heavy rains that swept through southwest B.C. over the weekend, causing severe flooding and extensive damage throughout the province. The entire city of Merritt was placed under evacuation order, while a series of mudslides, rockslides and washouts closed all highways leading out of the Lower Mainland in both directions.
Pemberton was pummelled by 50.9 millimetres of rain Monday, adding to the 39.5 mm that fell on Sunday. Lillooet, meanwhile, saw 27.8 mm of rain fall on Sunday before receiving a further 33.8 mm on Monday, making it the rainiest Nov. 14 and 15 on record.
Currently there remains no public, non-essential highway access to the Interior of B.C.
With files from Megan Lalonde