Mudslide witness ‘thought he was a goner’

When a mudslide exploded down a creek at Fairmont Hot Springs in July 2012, a man standing in its path feared the worst.

When a mudslide exploded down a creek at Fairmont Hot Springs in July 2012, a man standing in its path feared the worst.

“I thought I was a goner. It sounded like a train hitting the building,” said Dave Dupont, general manager of Fairmont Mountainside Villas vacation condominiums.

He was standing just downstream from where the mudslide would slam into a set of condos where Fairmont Creek exits Marble Canyon.

The mud jumped the creek, bringing mud down around a set of condos in its path.

“I thought it was going to take the buildings down,” said Dupont about the condos that are among 116 vacation condos at Mountainside Villas, nestled around the golf fairways of Fairmont’s Mountainside Golf Course.

The force of the mud stripped siding off one condo and pushed an SUV parked out front more than 100 metres down the road, and dislodged a propane tank.

A minivan was pushed into the middle of a fairway.

The mud and debris reached almost three metres up one condo and measured two metres deep on one access road.

In his 10 years as GM, Dupont had seen smaller slides but nothing like the one that tore 65,000 square metres of mud, rock and debris and flushed much of it down a normally sleepy little Fairmont Creek on July 15, 2012. Much of that debris landed on Mountainside Golf Course and the adjacent Villas condo properties. It ripped out much in its path. The water and mud eventually fanned out, flooding some residences in its path, covering Hwy 93/95 before losing steam as it flushed into the Columbia River below.

What Dupont did not know until later is that 1.5 km upstream, mud and debris had torn out a road and pedestrian bridge that connected Fairmont Hot Springs Resort to the campground, stranding 600 campers on the other side of the creek from the resort. Just moments before, a lifeguard had evacuated the resort’s pool when he noticed muddy water.

While Dupont was marshalling his crew at work to deal with the disaster, his wife Cindy Levagood was being evacuated from their home, one of the homes at the base of the Mountainside property that were deemed vulnerable to flooding.

Dupont’s immediate focus was on a leaking 500-gallon propane tank that had been swept away by the mud. “If it blew, it would go 100 feet in the air …” Dupont said, his voice trailing off at the potential disaster.

Dupont is still grateful to the heroes in the volunteer Fairmont Fire Department. One courageous firefighter risked injury to plug a leaking propane tank, while others roped up to rescue guests trapped in a condo surrounded by mud. “It was unbelievable.”

Now, a year later, much of the repair from that slide is complete. More than 1,000 dump truck loads of mud, rock and debris were hauled from Mountainside Villas condo properties alone, said Dupont. The irrigation lines, which were ripped out and plugged with debris, have been replaced. Thousands of square feet of sod have been rolled out to landscape what was torn out by the slide.

The cost of the repairs to Mountainside Villas alone was $861,000 alone, said Dupont. Separate price tags for damage to the golf course and Fairmont resort push the expected cost of the disaster into the millions.

The cleanup started the night of the mudslide with most condos being ready for use within a week. Meanwhile, the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort up the mountain was closed for 19 days, and the Mountainside Golf Course was shut down for six weeks.

Dupont is still in awe at the force and breadth of that mudslide. A garbage can and the wooden cover from the Hot Springs travelled more than 1.5 km down the mountain, landing in a huge pond of mud that had displaced the water on Hole 12 on the golf course.

The mudslide in 2012 changed Dupont’s emergency response plan both at work and at home. At work, all employees now carry a red laminated business card that lists eight simple instructions in the event of emergency on one side and emergency numbers to call on the other side.

An emergency plan needs to be simple, because when disaster strikes you don’t have time to go to a computer or a binder, Dupont said.

Muster sites for people to gather in an emergency can’t be cast in stone, because disaster can hit the muster site.

Dupont was one of five staff who have shared the lessons learned with others in his industry to help others plan for similar disasters.

Dupont believes that most people are unprepared for a disaster. He said he had never considered a flood, let alone a mudslide. Surrounded by forest and with many fires threatening the area over the years, he considered wildfire the biggest threat.

At home, Dupont and his wife Levagood now have a suitcase packed in the front closet in the event they need to evacuate. The suitcase contains clothing, shoes, water, food and toiletries. When Levagood was evacuated, she left with two pets but had no purse, credit cards or clothing, Dupont said.

lmartindale@bprda.wpengine.com

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