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Tyee Photo Essay

Stunning Photos of Massive Meager Slide

Rescue worker David Steers was there to save hikers, and he took his camera.

By David Steers and Michael LaPointe, 12 Aug 2010, TheTyee.ca

Photo 1 of 15

  • Debris field of Meager Creek landslide

    At this time, the question was: Will the dam blow out, will it cut a channel through the dam and drain in less than an hour (both of these had the potential to cause 200-year-plus flood levels) or would it drain in two hours -- or three -- or more? [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Path of Meager Creek landslide

    Continuing down the slidepath, you can see how far out the landslide ran. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Destroyed peak of Mt. Meager

    Approaching what's left of Meager peak -- and I understand there's even less of it now than there was when this picture was shot. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Slopes channelling Meager Creek landslide

    These slopes channeled the runout and are completely stripped. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Hot springs covered by Meager Creek landslide

    Not likely anyone will be headed into Meager Creek hotsprings for a while. Maybe in the winter. This is the booth at the bridge that isn't there anymore (well, there's the odd bit... There are also pieces of heavy machinery that I think were being used to build the bridge that are gone forever). [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • 'Lunar landscape' after Meager Creek landslide

    This was shot as we flew home down the debris field. It looked like the surface of the moon in places. Steve [the helicopter pilot], who once upon a time flew tourists in Hawaii out to the volcanoes, said it looked exactly the same. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Stranded campers after Meager Creek landslide

    This group of four guys and one dog was the closest to ground zero. They had just arrived at the campground when the slide started and they heard it roaring towards them in the darkness. They literally ran for the hills. A search-and-rescue crew pulled them off the landing early Friday morning. It must have been terrifying to hear the slide coming towards you, and it didn't miss them by much. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Natural dam after Meager Creek landslide

    This was our first look at the dam from upstream. The height of it seemed to show it could hold back an awful lot of water. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Meager Creek landslide damage

    This was our first real look at the slide. Everyone was pretty quiet. The slide ran around 10 kilometres. The haze might in part have been dust still suspended in the air. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Pemberton and Lillooet after Meager Creek landslide

    Pemberton is still there -- and closer to town there isn't a whole lot of debris in the Lillooet -- yet. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Capricorn Creek after landslide

    Detail of Capricorn Creek on Saturday morning. The creek walls were collapsing constantly, and the water running down the mountain looked more like some kind of pudding. On Friday morning we debated whether the mist was steam or not, and steam wouldn't have been good. We decided it was a combination of mist and pumice exploding. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Natural dam breach after Meager Creek landslide

    The dam breach on Saturday morning with most of the lake drained out. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Unaccounted-for hikers after Meager Creek landslide

    Our two unaccounted for hikers. This was our first view of them walking completely unconcerned down the road from the Harrison Hut. See how hard they are to see from the road, and we were flying low and slow. It's not as easy as it might seem to spot people from the air, and if they are under the canopy it's virtually impossible. We were a pretty happy group in the machine when Steve spotted them -- truly thought we'd never see them again. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Glacier on valley bottom after landslide

    Another big chunk of glacier sitting on the valley bottom. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

  • Slide tracks after Meager Creek landslide

    Looking down Mt. Meager at the ride the slide took. [Caption and photo: D. Steers.]

Related

It was pitch-black when a roar and rumble rocked Mt. Meager. These are the unmistakable signs of disaster in a region classified slide-prone. When word of a landslide reached Pemberton, some 70 kilometres south of the Meager region, David Steers was among the first dispatched by helicopter early on Friday, August 6. He and his colleagues with Pemberton search-and-rescue were tasked to reach the disaster site, evaluate the damage and rescue any people. Only later would he learn that the roar in the night had registered a 2.6 on the Richter scale, and would amount to one of the largest landslides in Canadian history.

Steers and his colleagues arrived in the region as morning was unveiling the damage. Flying north, the scope of the slide was revealed to Steers by degrees. "Going up the Lillooet River, we could tell the water level had dropped considerably," he recounts. "The farther north we got, the less water we could see." But it was only when the helicopter turned a bend in the river that the magnitude fully sunk in: the debris field stretched to a vanishing point in the distance. "People describe being dumbstruck," he says. "When we turned that corner, that's the only word for it. We all just sat there staring. Someone occasionally said, 'Wow.' That's about it."

The omens went from bad to worse when the helicopter eventually reached the peak of Mt. Meager, where the slide had originated. "That's when I realised the whole damn mountain had fallen down."

What Steers and his colleagues saw on their mission is documented in the incredible series of photos he published to Flickr, a selection of which you can click through and view at the top of this story. Steers' photos represent the only comprehensive collection of this historical landslide currently available, taken by one of the very first people on the scene.

'Nothing ever like this'

"I've seen floods across the Meager before," Steer says, "but nothing ever like this. Our immediate concern was the dam." The debris had slid some 10 kilometres, settling on top of the confluence of Capricorn and Meager creeks, which created a natural dam, preventing Meager Creek from draining into Lillooet River.

Three million cubic metres of water pooled behind this dam, which by Friday night was threatening to breach and flood the Pemberton Valley. Fears of catastrophe prompted officials to evacuate 1,500 people from their homes and to place an additional 2,500 on alert, a move Steers believes was "the right call."

Due to the diligence of officials and search-and-rescue teams like Steers', no one has been reported injured. But as of Saturday morning, several people remained missing.

Hikers found, unaware

"We were tasked with recovering two hikers," Steers says. "We didn't know what their route was. We had some info from the RCMP that didn't help much. To be honest, I didn't have much hope we'd find them." After checking all the major sites to no avail, Steers was thinking, "This isn't going to end well." But then someone in the helicopter spotted two men walking casually down a path.

"They hardly even looked at us as we flew near them, low and slow. They weren't paying much attention. When we eventually caught up with them, we said, 'Boy are we happy to see you!'

"'Why?'" they asked.

Only when the two men shared a sight of the damage from the vantage of the helicopter did they realise just how close they'd come.

Other lucky campers were recovered by Steers' team, including a group who had heard that sound in the night growing louder and louder, and approaching. Not able to tell what it was, Steers says, "They just ran for the hills. The slide barely missed them."

Over the course of these search-and-rescue flights, Steers accumulated his collection of images, but it wasn't easy.

"I remember having a very British Columbian thought," he says. "I remember thinking, 'Damn it all! I'm having trouble taking photos of the landslide because of smoke from forest fires!'"  [Tyee]

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