Not your average snowy winter.
Last month I shared an end of year message of gratitude in what have been truly awful times for many. Now, a few short weeks later, and in the first days of the new year, we are again responding to communities impacted by especially severe weather conditions, this time in the form of multiple daily avalanches onto vital access roads.
The rain-laden atmospheric river events of November and early December transitioned abruptly to heavy snowfall and then in the past week an equally sudden warming that brought rain-on-snow impacts, particularly to the northern part of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. Since the start of the year, key access roads in Electoral Areas A and B have been subject to closure from the combination of heavy snow and avalanche risk, meaning that communities have been dealing with periods of complete isolation for over two weeks now. The latest period of rain on snow resulted in dozens of avalanches, sometimes along a single road in a single day and have prevented crews from even starting the task of ploughing the roads and removing the avalanche deposits until risk subsided.
For the past five days, Electoral Area A and parts of Area B have been completely cut off by road, with the added complication in Area A of a TELUS outage that left the area also reliant on satellite communications. Adverse weather conditions including ongoing fog also hampered the ability for repair crews and supplies to get in by air.
So, what do we do in these circumstances? The reality in rural and remote communities is that your neighbour is often going to be your best first responder. What we think of as the traditional first responder groups (ambulance, SAR, police, fire) may take hours to get into some places, or be prevented even by air from accessing a community. To get things done we rely on that interface between the organization that is the SLRD and the people that are the SLRD, and the people of the SLRD are amazing.
On behalf of the SLRD, I would like to acknowledge everyone who has been part of this latest emergency response, including community members who offered their satellite communications tools to help with the information flow, those who volunteered to go door-to-door to check on their neighbours, the crews and technicians going above and beyond to restore access in conditions that remain risky, those who made sure emergency supplies could be delivered and anyone who played any part at all in this response – you have been the first responders for your community.
Specifically, the SLRD gratefully acknowledges the following:
- Tsal’alh, for their critical role in the delivery, by boat, of essential goods and medications into Seton Portage and for everything they have done and are doing in that community;
- Blackcomb Helicopters, who responded to our request for assistance in delivering emergency medicine and supplies into the Bridge River Valley, by providing a flight at no charge;
- Every Dawson Road Maintenance worker for their dedication in such challenging conditions to get roads open as soon as humanly possible;
- The volunteer firefighter members at Gun Lake and Bralorne;
- Wildcat Heli for additional air support; and
- Lillooet businesses and organizations who made these critical deliveries possible.
Personally, I’d also like to recognize the dedication and commitment of our Emergency Operations Centre team at the SLRD, and my colleague, and fellow Board member, SLRD Electoral Area A Director, Sal DeMare.
As a resident of Electoral Area A, Director DeMare and his family were directly impacted by this emergency but he has been engaged on the ground in every aspect of this response. He has been a vital liaison for the community, keeping abreast of things both in person and sometimes 160 characters at a time via inReach. He has been one of the volunteers unloading essential supply deliveries from the helicopters, and getting those supplies to recipients, sometimes via a quad with chains, navigating icy roads and pathways.
This is our latest emergency response and it will not be our last. Be as prepared as you possibly can, including being able to get through at least 72 hours in isolated conditions at home and also if suddenly stuck on a road in your vehicle. And get to know that first responder who lives next door.
Chair, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District