North Island regroups following series of storms

Highway 19 reopens after landslides force day-and-a-half closure

A series of landslides that closed Highway 19 for a day and a half beginning Sunday forced stranded travelers to scramble their work, child care and school schedules before the road was reopened Monday afternoon.

Several women’s and youth hockey teams were among the travelers marooned in Port Hardy and Port McNeill for a day and a half after at least six landslides late Saturday night forced the closure of Highway 19 early Sunday morning between Beaver Cove Junction, just south of Port McNeill, and Sayward Junction.

“I guess we’re going back to the Haida Way and hang out there for a day or two,” Parksville’s Gail Downey said Sunday afternoon. Downey was one of a number of parents who accompanied the Oceanside Generals peewee hockey team for games in Port Alice and Port McNeill and were stuck following the slides. “We’ve been checking around, and there’s a bowling alley in Port Hardy. We’ll probably go to the lounge later to watch the Grey Cup.”

The highway reopened Monday evening after crews from Emcon and the Ministry of Transportation cleared the debris. For several hours the road was open only to single-lane-alternating traffic.

The slides on Highway 19, which closed 115 kilometres of roadway, were triggered by torrential rains and high winds that lashed the North Island in a pair of storms Thursday and Saturday.

Last week’s weather wreaked havoc on several fronts. Traffic on Highway 30 between Port Alice and the Highway 19 junction was reduced Sunday to intermittent, single-lane alternating traffic due to heavy flooding. The Coal Harbour road was briefly closed due to flooding. And BC Ferries was forced to suspend service on the Tri-Island route between Port McNeill, Malcolm Island and Cormorant Island for most of the day Saturday.

The road from Port Hardy to Holberg also remained closed earlier this week due to mudslides, though Western Forest Products has maintained a supply boat run from Coal Harbour to Holberg. The Holberg to Winter Harbour Road remains open.

The waterfront home of Noreen Hunt on the Fort Rupert Reserve was threatened with toppling into the sea after an extreme high tide combined with 160-kilometre winds wiped out her sea wall and washed her patio away.

Also, power was knocked out the the Hyde Creek and Nimpkish Heights neighbourhoods south of Port McNeill for several hours Friday evening.

Those prevented from returning to their permanent residences by the slides were eligible for vouchers through Emergency Social Services centres set up Monday afternoon in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Campbell River, said Chuck Lok, local coordinator for the Provincial Emergency Program.

“There is some assistance available for meals and accomodations for travelers unable to return home to their permanent residence,” said Lok. “If people are simply in transit while on vacation, they’re normally not eligible.”

Three women’s hockey teams in Port Hardy for the annual Wild Women’s tournament were among the hardest hit by the highway closure. Two players with young children at home and no backup child-care plan actually flew to Vancouver Sunday to catch a ferry back to the Island below the slides.

Fourteen more chartered a flight out Monday morning, when the Ministry of Transportation was saying the road could remain closed until Tuesday afternoon.

“One of the girls was telling me her $300 tournament was now a $600 tournament,” said Marnie Ordano of the host Port Hardy Wild team, who scrambed to help the stranded players with food and accomodations. “I’ve got six girls on my team willing to make food, like pots of chili and soup. But we’re looking for a place to take it that they can come to eat.”

The road closure disrupted not only child care, but work and school schedules as well.

The women’s hockey players in Port Hardy include a number of locals home for the weekend from college or university. Several of them missed Monday classes, but at least they had homes to stay in.

Hockey teams are stuck on both sides of the closure. The North Island Eagles midgets traveled to Nanaimo to wait out the closure following their game Sunday in Port Alberni.

The PHSS wrestling team, however, managed to slip through before the slides came down, after competing in the first meet of the season Saturday in Duncan.

“We got in (Saturday) night about 11:30,” PHSS wrestling coach Joe Humphreys said while watching the hockey in Port Hardy Sunday. “Apparently we just missed the closure.”

For updates on highway conditions and travel information, visit DriveBC at www.drivebc.ca