UPDATED: Search at Johnsons Landing to resume for two days
The BC Coroners service will be resuming its search for the two missing victims of the Johnsons Landing landslide.
The remains of 17-year-old Rachel Webber and 64-year-old Petra Frehse are still missing after the landslide that devastated the community on July 12.
“We will resume searches in areas that at the time we considered moderate probabilities and that would be on the edges and boundaries of the areas already searched,” said chief coroner Lisa Lapointe during a Tuesday morning press conference in Kaslo.
The work at the landslide was suspended last Wednesday after six days of search efforts at the slide.
The BC Coroners Service confirmed late last week that the remains found at the landslide were of 60-year-old Valentine Webber and 22-year-old Diana Webber.
Lapointe said the search would resume the middle of this week for two more days.
“We did a very careful assessment of the site to see whether the remains may be recoverable,” said Lapointe. “It’s very important for the family of course and the community as well. The initial excavation at the site of the Webber household and at the area where we knew the Frehse household had been were very thorough and thoughtful. But we’re convinced now having completed two full days excavating an area about 10 metre radius around the home.”
Local search and rescue will be joined by experts to focus the search on the location of the Webber household, where Lapointe is optimistic they will likely find the remains of Rachel.
“We had good information that the Webber family was likely to be found together,” she said. “There was information that they were likely to be having breakfast on the deck when the slide hit.”
Family, friends and local residents told officials involved what they knew about the whereabouts of the family before the slide, which helped with the BC Coroners Service analysis.
“Our expert determined that we would be most likely to find the remains near the front of the house,” said Lapointe.
“The house consists of an older area and a newer built area and our experts determined that we were most likely to find their remains near the original home and we did. That analysis was right on and we found Valentine and Diana right where we expected to find them. We did not find Rachel in that area, but our analysis suggests that she is not likely to be very far away.”
Lapointe said the analysis could be wrong and Rachel may not be found there.
“We are fairly optimistic that searches on the outer areas that have already been searched will be successful,” she said. “If they aren’t successful we know that we have exhausted every reasonable effort to find her remains.”
The BC Coroners Service has “reluctantly concluded” the search at the Frehse household.
“That has been a much more challenging site,” said Lapointe. “There were no indicators at the site of where that house had been. We knew where the Webber house was from sheds that were still standing and the driveway that led in to where that residence was and other artifacts. In fact that whole top of the house had shifted, but was still relatively close to where the foundation of the house was. We had really good information for the location of the Webber household. The location of the Frehse house was initially very difficult to locate.”
Searchers used the help of local residents in locating where Frehse’s house might bave been.
“We excavated 25 feet deep up to six metres deep at that site,” said Lapointe. “We did find some small artifacts of roof in that area, but nothing else was found. There is a very wide cone of debris down from where that house stood at one time, that contains acres and acres of land. We excavated an area about 10 metres wide and 20 metres long and about six metres deep at the Frehse house and found nothing to indicate that there is anything to find.
“It is a disappointment but it is a very challenging area the mass of debris at that area is much higher up the slope and was likely considerably much stronger and caused considerably more damage. There is nothing of the house remaining.”
While officials return to Johnsons Landing, the Regional District of Central Kootenay is also working to help residents return to their homes.
An evacuation order was placed for an area surrounding the debris field immediately following the landslide.
“It’s essentially the east portion, there was a circle of homes that were in the danger area of the slide were under evacuation order,” said public information officer with the regional district Frances Maika. “Every day when we have geotechnical experts out there because we know what an imposition it is to have people out of their homes. We’re looking at the areas around the line we drew the first time around and whether some properties can be removed from the evacuation order.”
A portion of a property where a house was completely destroyed by the slide has been moved from the evacuation order area.
“The benefit it had was the Johnsons Landing Retreat Centre, when we moved the line we were able to eliminate them from the evacuation order area,” said Maika. “They are able to come and go and do business there without being under the evacuation order.”
The regional district, with the help of geotechnical experts, will continue to look at properties around the landslide and see if the evacuation order line can be moved inward.
“Right now it isn’t safe to move the line any more,” said Maika. “But as things dry out and we get more information we will re-evaluate that.”
Maika said experts have not been able to access the start zone of the landslide.
“It’s not safe to go up there yet,” she said. “They are seeing that they can’t put anyone on the slide because it is so unstable. There are so many unknowns but it is a huge, huge risk.”
Lapointe said officials recognize the continued instability of the landslide and will have appropriate safety measures in place to assure the safety of those working at the site.