Storm strands travellers, cuts off only road access to remote B.C. community

Bamfield still waiting for promised road upgrades after fatal bus crash last September

  • Feb. 3, 2020 10:43 a.m.

Tom Jarvis speaks with a driver at the start of Bamfield Main on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Heavy rain from an ‘atmospheric river’ that hit the west coast of British Columbia on the weekend caused several washouts on the 88-kilometre road. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the News)

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

Dozens of travellers spent their weekend stranded at either end of Bamfield Main as crews worked to repair damage from Friday’s rainstorm.

Western Forest Products was expecting the road to reopen but not until Monday at noon, three days after 250 to 350 millimetres of rain fell in a 48-hour period and swept tonnes of debris down mountainsides.

With the ground already saturated by weeks of steady rain, the storm triggered overland flows that halted motorists in their tracks late Friday afternoon. The route was cut off in half a dozen locations and a bridge at kilometre 46 was destroyed. More than half a dozen other routes in southern B.C. were closed by storm damage.

Closer to town, a few low-lying properties flooded. Shelter Farm near Cox Lake was underwater.

“It’s good for the soil,” said Guy Langlois, manager of the North Island College (NIC) vocational market garden. “It does affect our plans. We certainly can’t do any pre-season gardening.” The area used to flood on a regular basis according to a previous landowner.

Several groups from outlying communities spent the weekend in Port Alberni.

Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr., part of a group from Pacheena Bay, made light of the road closure, joking that they had the weekend “to enjoy Port Alberni’s special magic.” Lots of other families were stranded as well.

“Our nation set up people in hotels right away,” he said.

But there was a more serious side to the storm. He couldn’t recall a similar circumstance despite rugged west coast weather and the road’s notorious reputation.

RELATED: Bamfield Road safety concerns resurface after fatal bus crash

“It was probably the biggest rain event any of us has seen in our lives,” Dennis said. “There is no last time. This is the first time we’ve seen a storm of this magnitude.”

They didn’t have the option of taking the Cowichan Lake route on account of major flooding there as well. Cowichan Valley Regional District declared a state of emergency Saturday after flooding closed Hwy. 1.

READ: Flooding closes Highway 1, Cowichan Valley declares state of emergency

This was the second weekend in a row that communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island were cut off. A rock slide caused by blasting on a Highway 4 improvement project cut off Ucluelet and Tofino for a few days. Heavy rain also saturated the area as an emergency bridge was erected near Kennedy Lake for single-lane traffic.

WATCH: Drone footage shows extent of damage in Highway 4 rockslide

Dennis’s biggest fear is what Bamfield community members will find in the aftermath of the most recent storm as they survey local streams where extensive salmon enhancement work has been done.

“That’s a lot of water and silt moving down different streams,” Dennis said.

By Saturday morning, storm silt had turned Alberni Inlet a muddy brown.

READ: two killed after bus crashes taking university students to Bamfield

The storm brought home once again the need for road improvements along the corridor. Upgrades were promised by the provincial government last year after a bus accident that claimed the life of two university students in September. The project has yet to be approved by Premier John Horgan, Dennis said.

“I get discouraged since the highway idea seems to be moving at a snail’s pace,” Dennis said.

BC FloodFirst NationsPORT ALBERNIStorm

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Rapids surge below Sproat River Bridge Saturday. The river is swollen after a big storm dumped heavy rain on the west coast of British Columbia. (MIKE YOUDS/ Special to the News)

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