Birken mudslide leaves family homeless 

A fund has been set up to support the Elliott family and other victims of slide

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEREMY LEGERE - ROCKY ROAD A mudslide near Birken on Sunday, Sept. 20 destroyed two homes and left four other properties damaged.
  • Photo by Jeremy Legere
  • ROCKY ROAD A mudslide near Birken on Sunday, Sept. 20 destroyed two homes and left four other properties damaged.

For Rob Elliott, whose house was lost in a devastating mudslide outside of Pemberton Sept. 20, it's not his material possessions he'll miss the most, but the land he was so deeply attached to.

"I was just shocked, of course," he said Tuesday, two days after a slide north of Birken destroyed two area homes and damaged four others. "But it's not just the home, what's most shocking is the land because that's what I fell in love with."

He said the damage caused likely means he'll never be able to rebuild on the land.

"I'm not attached to the possessions, but the dream we were building there is harder to let go of," Elliott added.

What's even worse for Elliott and his wife, Erin, and three-year-old son, is that their insurance company has denied all claims, as the slide is considered an act of God, so they're unlikely to ever see a penny for the two-storey house, guest cabin, 80-foot greenhouse and large garden built on the property.

A friend who was living on the property also had his restored motor home washed away in the deluge of mud and rock.

Elliott wasn't present to witness the slide overtake his house, as he had ventured into town to buy a generator after power lines were downed, which may have been a blessing in disguise.

"(The debris) did a major jump towards us and that's what went through all of our property and buried the house," said Elliott. "It's quite good that I left at that point because there would've been a good chance of me hiking back into the house."

Now, the Elliotts are holding out hope they will be considered eligible for a provincial emergency disaster fund that could help recoup some of the damages.

But even in this desperate time, Elliott can't help but consider himself lucky.

"Before all this, we had been talking about the refugee crisis and how we could support a Syrian family," he said. "We're now in a refugee position ourselves sort of, but we're in such a better position than all those families. We're not fleeing under duress and we have an amazing support network of people and friends to help us. I'd be just as happy to hear that someone was motivated to help another family; it doesn't have to be us."

Heavy rains on Sept. 19 and 20 resulted in a number of debris flows and flooding across the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), closing a section of Portage Road and cutting off access to the communities of Devine, D'Arcy and N'Quatqua.

The SLRD declared a State of Local Emergency in Areas C and D on Monday, Sept. 21.

"It was a shock to see the destructive force of Mother Nature," said Whistler's Jeremy Legere, who was driving near Birken when the slide hit. "To see how the slide destroyed the properties, the rail line and the Hydro transmission towers was surprising to say the least, and it's really unfortunate for those who live in the area."

Around 50 people were left stranded as a result of the slide, said SLRD emergency manager Ryan Wainwright, and search and rescue crews had their hands full evacuating individuals to safety out of the backcountry on Monday.

Several hundred people were also left without power and telephone service until Monday afternoon.

An evacuation order and alert issued for several properties near Seton Portage remains in place as hazard assessments get underway.

In an area known for landslides, Wainwright doesn't feel much more could've been done to minimize the damage.

"If we had an unlimited budget, we could get into every drainage in the Sea to Sky and start building giant concrete chutes and things like that. But unfortunately, when we're talking about the resources and technologies that are available, it's really a risk-management process," he said, adding that an impact assessment will be completed in the future.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the Elliotts get back on their feet, and can be viewed at gofundme.com/xd4nchvw. A separate campaign for the Elliotts' neighbour, Jeff Waters, has been established to recover the cost of his motor home. It can be viewed at gofundme.com/cf4r3bnk.

Contributions can be made to the Birken Slide Relief Fund at Scotiabank. The Pemberton Community Centre is also accepting clothing and book donations.

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