The sound of rushing water was all that warned Amber Blair and her son Ryley Meyer of the landslide which crashed into the rear of their Sunnybrae home just seconds later.
The slide, which hurtled down the slope in the 4000 block of Sunnybrae-Canoe Point road on the afternoon of Friday, April 7, hit the house with enough force to knock it off its foundations, but miraculously spared both Blair and Meyer from serious injury.
Blair was standing at the house’s front door, ready to put her shoes on and pay a visit to her landlord when Ryley alerted her to the sound.
“To him it sounded like water, to me it just sounded like something coming,” Blair said.
Next door, Steven and Jean Hobbs heard the sound as well.
“My husband had just come in. He put the ladder up against the apple tree and he was going to go and do his pruning and when he opened the door to go out, he heard this roar and thought it was a piece of equipment coming up the road. Somehow he just knew. He slammed the door shut and yelled at me that we had to get out,” Jean said.
Within seconds of hearing the sound, a wall of debris crashed into the house, knocking Blair’s house off its foundation and throwing her to the ground.
“Everything hit the back of my body and my head and I kind of went down with the house,” she said.
Blair did not lose consciousness despite the impact to her head and was able to climb over the house’s stove and refrigerator to get to the part of the wreckage where the miraculously uninjured Ryley was.
The pair tried to get out of the house, but the patio door was badly bent and could not be opened.
Blair had the presence of mind to locate her purse and cellphone; she called the police as the Hobbs and other neighbours arrived to help break the glass in the door, allowing them to escape.
“Five seconds sooner I would’ve still been in the washroom. Five seconds sooner he would’ve still been in his room where most of the impact of the mudslide crushed the entire home,” she said.
Blair was transported to hospital with bruises and abrasions on her head and body.
The landslide also crashed in the Hobbs’ house as they ran up their basement stairs trying to escape. By the time they reached the second floor, they had to climb over a large tree which had crashed through the house in order to get out through their back patio door. Jean and Steven were uninjured.
Once outside, Jean and Steven could see Blair’s house being carried off its foundations and down the slope by the debris; they ran to help her and her son.
“You just run, you just go on adrenaline and do what you have to do,” Jean said.
As Blair and Meyer were escaping the shattered house in Sunnybrae, Blair’s husband Darin was in Nova Scotia caring for family.
“I just want to know how my wife is doing… it doesn’t matter, we’ll survive, we always do, but it’s just the fact that where is my family going to go tonight?” Darin said when the Observer contacted him the day of the slide.
After initially finding out about the slide through Facebook, Darin called Amber as she was on her way to the hospital.
Darin returned to the Shuswap on April 9.
Blair said there was no indication or early warning the slope above her house was unstable. She said the possibility had been in the back of her mind and that she was aware of rockslide activity along other parts of Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road, but tried to put it out of her mind.
She met with the Kevin Turner, the Geotechnical Engineer who assessed the safety of the slide area on April 8.
“He looked at me and said you’re a miracle, out of all the years I’ve done mudslides I don’t see very many people alive. If it isn’t the mud that kills you it’s the debris of the house,” Blair said.
Blair has not been back to the site of the slide yet.
“I don’t even want the go back to look at it to be honest,” she said.
At the meeting with Turner and Ryan Nitchie from the CSRD, Blair was told not to expect to be able to return to try to salvage possessions any time soon, but that the property would be kept secure.
Steven and Jean were offered a place to stay by neighbours for two nights following the slide, hoping to be close to home if it became safe to go back and retrieve belongings.
They are now staying with Steven’s mother in Salmon Arm.
“The people in Salmon Arm are amazing people we’ve had a lot of positive response,” Jean said. People have been inquiring how they are doing and offering to help in any way they can.
Blair says her son is taking the ordeal as well as can be expected, showing little emotion except when talking about the loss of the family’s dog and cat in the slide.
Blair and her son stayed with her ex-husband’s parents immediately after the slide, but have since been moved to a hotel thanks to help from the Red Cross.
The Red Cross also provided vouchers for Walmart and friends and family launched a GoFundMe page to provide financial assistance.
“The most important thing for me right now is not to disrupt my son’s routine, school is very important to him, his social life is very important to him. Something stable for him, that’s the key,” Blair said.
Amber, Darin and Ryley are currently in search of a place to rent.
“I’ve just got to find a roof over my family’s head and then take it one day at a time,” Amber said.
Although Steven and Jean carried insurance, Jean says they are not covered in this case. They will be applying for disaster financial assistance from the provincial government.
Meanwhile, Sunnybrae-Canoe point road is now open to single lane traffic at all hours of the day and night but the evacuation order for the four properties closest to the slide remains in effect.
The geotechnical assessment of the slope is still underway.
According to Nitchie, slope stability is still being tracked with monitoring devices and Westrek Geotechnical Services’ formal report may take a few weeks to be finalized.
“The current theory is that it was a naturally occurring event that was the result of groundwater and oversaturation of the existing soils,” he said.
GoFundMe pages have been established to benefit both families displaced by the landslide. They can be found at: https://www.gofundme.com/sunnybrae-mudslide-victims and https://www.gofundme.com/mackie-family-need-us
-With files from Lachlan Labere