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Living Through a Mudslide in Harrison Hot Springs

Resident Mervyn Thomas shares his story of narrowly escaping disaster: ‘It was like a freight train.’

Mervyn Thomas, as told to Katie Hyslop 23 Nov 2021TheTyee.ca

Mervyn Thomas is a resident of Harrison Hot Springs.

[Editor’s note: Mervyn and Sabena Thomas live in the District of Kent at the base of Bear Mountain, just outside Harrison Hot Springs. A massive rainfall of 127 millimetres on Sunday, Nov. 14, caused a mudslide down the mountain that cut off access to their street, Rockwell Drive, and severely damaged the home they moved into last year. The following is Mervyn Thomas’s account of that night, as told to reporter Katie Hyslop. For more stories of the deluge that hit B.C. last week, go here.]

Around 5:30 on Sunday evening, I was watching football in the living room of our home just outside Sasquatch Provincial Park in Harrison Hot Springs. My wife Sabena was still at work in town but was set to come home soon.

Suddenly a noise came that was so loud it was like a freight train was rushing through the living room. I ran to the back door to try to see what was happening, but it was too dark to see. The noise grew even louder, now accompanied by the sounds of massive trees snapping and cracking, and boulders tumbling down the mountain. It felt like the whole mountain was rushing down onto the house.

Frightened, I ran upstairs to our bedroom on the other side of the house. With my back to the window, I waited for boulders and trees to smash through the walls. The thundering noise kept going for another 10 to 30 seconds, I’m not sure how long I was standing there. But then, other than the pouring rain outside, it was silent.

Not fully dressed, I jumped into a pair of jeans, grabbed a sweater, pulled on my runners and headed out the front door. I don’t know how, but I managed to call 911 on my way out to alert them to the mudslide.

Despite the dark I could see broken tree branches, giant rocks, logs piled against our truck, and a tree lying against the house. We would later find out the pump house in our backyard, as well as our truck, had diverted the worst of the slide away from our house, saving it from destruction.

But there was seven feet of debris on our property, another one of our vehicles was pushed down an adjacent ravine, our driveway had collapsed, and the front of the house was destroyed.

582px version of MudslideHarrisonHotspringsCar.jpg

I headed on foot for our neighbours’ house roughly 100 yards away. The slide had missed their house entirely, flowing into Harrison Lake after washing out the only access road to the area.

My neighbour was so scared by the noise, she looked like a ghost when she opened the door. Together we hopped in her car to head into town, but the road was blocked by the mudslide. So we turned around and hung out in her house while we waited for rescue; luckily the power was still on. I was even able to return briefly to our house to pack some essentials and turn off the heat.

582px version of MudslideHarrisonHotSpringsDamage.jpg

We got word that we would be picked up by a rescue boat on Harrison Lake. So around 10 p.m. we headed down to the water along with three women who were vacationing in the area for the weekend with their two dogs. We arrived in Harrison Hot Springs, normally less than a 10-minute drive from our house, at 1:15 a.m.

Sabena, who met me at the dock in the pouring rain, had spent two hours on the phone earlier that evening before she was able to secure us a hotel room for the night. Local flooding and the mudslide meant most of the accommodations in town were fully booked.

Since that night we have been able to return to our home for an hour, again by boat, to pick up some more essentials. We have applied for provincial emergency funding as we have learned our insurance doesn’t cover mudslides. Insurance will cover the apartment we’re renting in Chilliwack, however, while we wait for the state of emergency to lift and to receive word that it is safe to return home.  [Tyee]

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