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Rock slide injures two on Okanagan highway
Two people suffered minor injuries after a rock slide onto Highway 97, just two kilometres north of Summerland, late Sunday morning.
Matt Strength was driving northbound near La Punta Norte Bed and Breakfast when he saw rocks and dirt plunge down the mountain and on to the busy highway, creating a fog of dust.
“There was this huge dust cloud from where the rocks came down and then we saw two vehicles that just managed to get out of the way of it. They came right out of this big dust cloud like something out of a movie,” he said.
As the dust started clearing he jumped out of his vehicle and ran to where one car appeared to be hit. He was followed by the driver of the vehicle in front of him.
“You could hear a car horn blaring in the distance and we realized someone got hit by those rocks. One guy ran over to the driver and helped him get out. The driver was banged up a bit with scratches to his forehead, some kind of chest trauma and looked like a twisted or broken ankle,” said Strength.
The female passenger in the vehicle hit by the slide was unconscious and as others began digging debris from the back of the vehicle, Strength and one other person started pulling rocks from the passenger side door.
“Once we got to her a physician that was in the traffic came over and handled everything. At one point the woman was unconscious but she came to and she definitely was not feeling too good. The physician deemed her neck was alright so we moved her out. She was pretty uncomfortable and it wasn’t long after that the paramedics got there,” said Strength.
Strength said the impact of the rocks pushed the vehicle three lanes over, moving a traffic barrier.
“It definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I grew up in the Okanagan and you always hear about landslides and rockslides on the highways but this was the first time I had seen it first hand. It was pretty shocking and I didn’t even really think about it when I ran out to help until afterwards and the adrenaline was going,” said Strength.
RCMP said the slide occurred around 11:26 a.m. and the two Alberta residents in the vehicle were transported to the Penticton Hospital then released Sunday evening. Sgt. Stephane Lacroix said it is believed most of their injuries were caused by the airbags being deployed. He said the outcome could have been worse, considering the amount of rock and dirt that fell.
“To see that coming down towards you must be terrifying. It is a good thing no one was completely buried or pushed into the lake. There was no warning so there is not much they could have done to get out of the way. They were lucky,” said Lacroix.
Vehicles were at a standstill temporarily on Highway 97 on Sunday before two lanes of traffic were opened to allow drivers from the north and south through. Murray Tekano, district manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said he expects the area to be completely cleaned up on Tuesday and all lanes of traffic to be opened. He believes about 500 cubic metres of rock and dirt fell from the face of the mountain.
“There is rock mesh there to capture rock fall when it occurs and direct it into the ditch. In this case the rock came down and the system worked largely as it was intended to capture it into the ditch but it was overwhelmed because of the volume and that is what flooded onto the highway,” said Tekano.
Engineers remained on site on Monday to assess the area.
“We don’t feel there is any risk of major rock fall and we will be following up on other areas,” said Tekano.
Photos courtesy Randy Kirkoski