Two years ago, Mandy Bath clambered on to shore near her rustic Kootenay cabin in Johnsons Landing at approximately 11 a.m. She had returned to the site of a devastating landslide the day before in hopes of rescuing her cat Ozzie. Tentatively making her way across the beach, she had only been on the ground for a matter of seconds when she heard a cacophonous rumble approaching from the other side of the trees.
“My dear friend had helped me get a boat. The timing was such that we had only five, maybe ten seconds on shore before we heard the second landslide,” she said. “It all came down in massive waves of mud. I heard snapping noises. I thought it was a thunder storm or something. Then the guy in the boat said `run run run run run’. I got back just in time and waves of mud chased us out.”
Skeptical? There’s video evidence of this epic spectacle, because also in attendance for the second slide was a Global TV crew floating in the water nearby. They captured Bath’s panicked retreat, the splintering crash of trees being flattened and finally the brown surge of detritus into Kootenay Lake.
The Youtube video, which has already received over two million views, shows the boat escaping the path of the mudslide as giant branches and logs bubble up to the surface, spearing the air within arm’s reach of their engine.
“That properly buried the house,” said Bath, who ultimately gave up hope of finding her feline companion or ever returning home.
Bath immediately began writing after the disaster, which claimed four lives, to try to make sense of her emotions and what she’d been through.
“I was reliving how close I came to dying twice within 24 hours,” she said. “Trauma like that unexpected shock to the system is a terrible thing.”
Now, on the second anniversary of the disaster, she has a completed creative non-fiction manuscript currently titled Tough Days in Paradise.
“It begins as memoir, but then it opens into the stories of everyone else. It’s a non-fiction account, trying to be as truthful and accurate as possible, about how people respond to natural disasters,” she said.
Bath interviewed victims and first responders alike, and expressed her gratitude to people such as RCMP officer Chris Backus and Nelson Star reporter Megan Cole, who were on the ground during the first days after her home was destroyed. She said the Red Cross were instrumental and the provincial government provided support as well.
She’s also been drawn into some ongoing controversies surrounding those who have lost their homes.
“There were people in Johnsons Landing who were never really compensated and are in limbo now because the government refused to buy back the land. But it’s unusable. Property owners can never rebuild because it’s too hazardous. It’s preposterous,” she said.
Bath has written human rights reports for Amnesty International and published a PhD thesis years ago, but she considers this her “first book”. She said she hopes those that read it will come to a new understanding of our relationship to natural disasters in the twenty-first century.
“They need to know that this massive natural disaster was the first of its kind in the area but I don’t think it will be the last,” she said. “It was a result of extreme weather. There will be more events like this, and the government needs to be prepared.”
She said she’s grateful for the assistance she received, but doesn’t think the current system for aiding disaster victims is adequate.
“I don’t think the provincial system of disaster financial assistance is designed for rural property owners,” she said.
Bath has secured a literary agent and is now looking for a publisher.
This story will be published in a coming edition of the West Kootenay Advertiser.