In Your Corner: Community comes together after Johnson’s Landing landslide

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Before July 12, most people never heard of Johnson’s Landing — just the way residents there preferred. Remote, with one road in and out, no cell service and only the CBC over radio airwaves. Beautiful with scenic views of Kootenay Lake and the mountains, glacier fed creeks and birds singing in the trees.

By the six o’clock news on July 12, however, the whole nation knew about Johnson’s Landing because something terrible happened. A massive landslide came down the mountain in mere seconds, clearing trees, boulders and houses in its wake. People ran, but some couldn’t. At the time of writing, four people remained missing, hopefully alive, after being trapped in the landslide. Petra Fresche, Valentine Webber and his two daughters Rachel and Diane. (Editor’s note: Remains have since been found at the site.)

From here, I can only tell the story from my point of view, as your MLA. I was in a taxi leaving a meeting when I checked my BlackBerry for new emails on Thursday afternoon. That’s when I saw what had happened. My office immediately kicked into high gear and our first service was to let people know that they could call us with any questions and that we’d take a list of people from anywhere in the world unable to get a hold of their loved ones from Johnson’s Landing. We received some calls and thankfully were able to connect family members.

As I was fielding calls from media, my staff were working on getting me home and up to Kaslo as soon as possible. I finally arrived early Friday evening after a briefing from the minister responsible for the Provincial Emergency Program, as well as my staff, who had been on the phones constantly with north Kootenay Lake residents and various emergency services. Once at Kaslo Search and Rescue central command centre, I was put to work. Asked to help SAR source a few items from the community, I got on the phone and was so grateful at the quick responses with some large items, such as a deep freeze.

The following day, I met with residents who had been evacuated and with emergency social services. Some people have lost their homes and the items that tell the stories of their lives and family histories. One woman told me how she lost her mother’s jewelry, and her laptop with photos and a book she was writing. She and her husband literally ran with the clothes on their backs.

Another young couple with a three-week-old baby have a farm. While it wasn’t destroyed directly by the slide, the farm has no water now, as the slide happened in Johnson’s Landing’s water source, Gar Creek. This young family is facing the loss of a year’s income because they can’t work their land right now.

I’ve also been in contact with residents still in Johnson’s Landing. They couldn’t get regularly updated information because the power was out and they didn’t have a battery powered radio. A friend was going over Sunday afternoon, so I arranged to get them a radio.

In such circumstances, you see tremendous grief, sadness and trauma. You also see a community come together and support each other without question. You see search and rescue professionals and volunteers from all over B.C. leave their families to get on planes and drive all night to help people in our part of the world. For this, I can only express my eternal gratitude.

For information on how you can help, please contact my office at 1-877-388-4498 or Michelle.Mungall.MLA@leg.bc.ca.

Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for advanced education, youth and labour market development.