People evacuated from their homes after a tanker truck carrying 35,000 litres of jet fuel spilled into Lemon Creek Friday afternoon are concerned and in limbo as the hazardous material filled the air and water in the Slocan Valley.
Having heard about the disaster before bed, Brian Rosen had a restless night at his home in Shore Acres a couple hundred feet from the Slocan River. And at 6 a.m., he was asked to leave.
“I just worry about the river, really — the fish and the plants, really,” he said a few hours later. “It’s been untouched so far. Now it’s touched and this is a big wake-up call for the Kootenays. We live in this secluded area and we think that everything is so pristine but it just takes one truck.”
The lead singer of Brian Rosen and the Whatnow was performing at Friday night’s MarketFest. The Kootenay Music Award winning musician writes many songs with an environmental theme,.
“Last night I was singing our song, Wild Rivers,” he said. “We focus on singing about noticing nature and our connection to where everyone comes from.”
Rosen had an eerie feeling Saturday morning with his home and community not safe.
While some evacuees found their own accommodations, others were directed to facilities within Nelson.
Gwen Rasmussen was woken at about 1:30 a.m. and asked to leave her Passmore home. By the time they departed an hour later, she could smell the fuel in the air. She described the smell as being similar to diesel.
Saturday morning, as Rasmussen sat at Selkirk College’s Tenth Street campus surrounded by others evacuated from her community, she thought of the geese — “a ma and pa with their goslings” — she’d taken pleasure in watching in her yard.
“What a shock. It seems like there is just one disaster after another,” she said. “The environmental damage that’s going to be done to that river is going to have such an effect on the wildlife.”
Robert Brown is another Passmore resident who is among the approximately 120 people who sought refuge at Selkirk College’s Tenth Street residence. Passmore is a narrow section of the valley where many live alongside the Slocan River and were within the 800-metre evacuation zone.
People at the college dorm awaited news about whether they’d be able to return home while talking about what had happened. Some felt there could have been better communication with residents from authorities while others lauded the efforts of volunteers going door-to-door enduring the fumes thick in the air.
Many wanted to know why the tanker truck was travelling up Lemon Creek forest service road in the first place.
Looking ahead, Brown is concerned about the community’s water supply that comes directly from the affected creek. Residents have been asked to avoid using water from sources within the evacuation area and 10 kilometers downstream.
“I am very worried about the water supply and what this means for our ability to drink and live there,” said Brown.
Carolyn McTaggart lives on Krestova Road and was woken up at 3 a.m. by firemen asking her to leave. She brought her dog and guinea pig along with her, but had to leave turtles and two horses behind.
Many in the area have livestock and two of McTaggart’s direct neighbours have boarding stables. Leaving behind her horses has the woman uneasy.
“There are toxic fumes and horses are extremely susceptible,” she said. “They’re part of my livelihood.”
McTaggart is hosting her sister and five nieces and nephews from Calgary. The family lives on higher ground and weren’t evacuated during the floods that hit the Alberta city last month.
Now, on vacation in the Slocan Valley, being evacuated due to a jet fuel spill has them shaking their heads at the irony of something so unexpected causing them to be evacuated now.
McTaggart is keeping her head about her and said being calm is most useful right now.
“It’s scary but you’ve just gotta deal. There’s no point in getting upset until we know what to be upset about. It won’t help,” she said.
Over at L.V. Rogers, about 240 people were on site Saturday morning. Several had arrived around 4 a.m. and filled cots set up in the gymnasium.
“They arrived very tired, with children and their pets,” said Red Cross Emergency response team volunteer Ian Wood. “Very tired and very concerned but very glad for the service provided. They were generally in good spirits.”
Wood said everyone is being well taken care of as they await information about whether they can return home. At this point Red Cross is making sure everyone can be housed for Saturday night.
Around 800 homes were evacuated. Residents north of Lemon Creek were sent to W.E. Graham Community School. There are currently 579 residents utilizing all three reception centres.