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Worst avalanche conditions in history of Coquihalla

Crews clear a path at the avalanche site Thursday so traffic can get through.
Image Credit: Ministry of Transportation
February 21, 2014 - 12:58 PM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN — The Coquihalla Highway has been hit with a storm cycle that dropped almost three metres of snow on the highway in just 10 days, leaving the corridor with the worst avalanche conditions seen during the 27 year history of the highway.

An avalanche hit the Coquihalla Thursday and quickly resulted in the closure of the entire highway south of Merritt. The avalanche hit about 33 km north of Hope, was one metre deep and 100 m wide. It reached the road but no one was caught in it, though crews did have to clear a path to get traffic through.

As crews worked to assist it became clear the largest avalanche control activities in the history of the highway would have to be deployed. Three helicopters are currently waiting and on call for a break in the weather, at which point several hours of avalanche control will begin.

In the past 24 hours a total of about 30 cm has fallen on the highway, meaning a lot of cleanup needs to be done outside of the avalanche area as well. Due to the high risk maintenance crews have not been able to access the highway to clean up after the avalanche or the falling snow, combine that with the several avalanches crews plan to trigger later today and cleanup could take at least another few hours as well.

Paula Cousins of the Ministry of Transportation says the best case scenario at this point is for the highway to be reopened sometime this evening.

“It's snowing up there, which is limiting helicopter activity,” Cousins says adding they expect a break around midday. “This is one of the largest avalanche control activities in the history of the Coquihalla, it will take several hours to complete.”

The dry January followed by a cold spell early in February created a weak snowpack, Cousins explains, so when the three metres of snow fell through the corridor over the last little while it created a 'unique situation' with very unstable bases.

Detours are available by Highways 1 and 3 and extra commercial safety inspectors are out to help ensure the safety of all travellers.

Avalanche control also took place west of Revelstoke again this morning, shutting down Highway 1 for a couple of hours. The Canadian Avalanche Centre is warning of 'significant potential for large, destructive avalanches for most regions.

The Coquihalla Highway was also closed Saturday for avalanche control and again on Tuesday, for a total of 28 hours, for avalanche control, at which point a natural avalanche also occurred.

To contact a reporter for this story, email, call (250)819-3723 or tweet @JennStahn.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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