Thoughts for Johnsons Landing
One week ago, I was in my car driving to Kaslo.
The radio was on as all of BC and eventually Canada learned of the massive landslide that ripped Johnsons Landing in half.
Four people were missing and houses destroyed.
When the news came through the office at the Star, I admit I didn’t understand the magnitude of what had happened.
I don’t think it really set in until I was parked on the side of Highway 31 across from Johnsons Landing.
There it was: this huge brown strip that ran 2,000 metres from up in the Kootenay Joe Range to the mouth of Gar Creek at Kootenay Lake.
I wasn’t the only one standing there.
Argenta residents stood next to me, running through names of people they knew in Johnsons Landing. They were asking each other if they’d heard from their friends.
News of damaged houses, destroyed houses and of course the victims buried beneath the rubble was circulating Kaslo.
Even though they were so close to the landslide, they didn’t know enough. What was going on at the debris field? Who was searching?
And then news emerged of a second slide, which I later found out barely missed Global National reporter Francis Silvaggio and Johnsons Landing resident Mandy Bath.
The massive debris field, which is now believed to measure 83 acres and vary in depth between five and 10 metres, was still shifting and moving as search and rescue crews worked to find Valentine, Rachel and Diana Webber, and Petra Frehse.
The community came to the TV satellite trucks along Kootenay Lake and to me with my laptop in coffee shops and restaurants for updates.
I did my best to relay what I knew, but there was a lot of waiting, even for the media.
On Sunday, I came as close as I could have to the landslide.
Thanks to a Kaslo resident, I went up to the slide with CBC reporter Emily Elias.
As we approached, the water was lined with bare cedar trees stripped of their bark and branches.
The smell of cedar was thick in the air as well pulled the boat on shore.
We were maybe 100 metres from the mouth of Gar Creek and the landslide that had settled there three days before.
A garden still stood just up from the shore of the lake, full of dill, strawberries and other produce ready for harvest, but was abandoned.
We found out later the garden belonged to Mandy Bath and Chris Klassen who lost their home and their cat in the landslides.
We walked up to houses on the south side looking for those who had chosen to stay behind.
We knocked on doors and looked in windows.
It was eerie and quiet. Houses abandoned with coffee cups and breakfast left on the table because everyone left in a hurry.
Eventually we reached a point where we could look down the Gar Creek valley, the path of the landslide.
We stood in silence.
It is hard to describe, even for a writer, what it is like to see what has caused so much destruction and so much pain.
I knew too that just five miles up the hill search and rescue workers were digging and looking for the four missing.
On our way back to the boat we found Chris in the garden with a basket. He was collecting the strawberries, moving slowly from row to row.
I’ve tried many times to talk to my friends and family about what it was like.
For the four days I was there, I don’t think I had time to process what had gone on and what I was experiencing.
Even now, a week later, I sit at my desk and my mind and my heart are with the community of Johnsons Landing and the Webber and Frehse families.
I think of the search and rescue workers who risked their lives to try and help the community get closure, and who worked with hope to try and find Valentine, Rachel, Diana and Petra.
As July 12 becomes more and more of a memory, I know I won’t forget quickly what I saw. And part of my heart will remain with Johnsons Landing.