Before July 12, most people had never heard of Johnsons 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 signing in the trees.
By the 6 o’clock news on July 12, however, the whole nation knew about Johnsons 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. Regrettably, four people have lost their lives after being trapped in the landslide: Petra Frehse, Valentine Webber and his two daughters Rachel and Diane.
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 ahold of their loved ones from Johnsons 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 evening Friday 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 search and rescue 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 freezer.
The following day, I met with residents who had been evacuated and 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 Johnsons Landing’s water source, Gar Creek.
This young family is facing a year’s income gone because they can’t work their land right now. Many others are in similar circumstances.
I’ve been in regular contact with residents still in Johnsons Landing. It will be a long, but determined struggle to make the community whole once again. 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 BC 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.