A local woman and her dog are home safe after being evacuated from the West Coast when heavy rains led to slides that left her stranded at Raft Cove last weekend.
“Oh, my,” said Carol Moffatt, 57. “It was quite the little adventure, eh?”
Moffatt and a trio of Australian surfers spent the better part of four days from Nov. 6-9 cut off by the slide across Ronning Main, one of more than 100 landslides and bridge washouts along logging access roads along the West Coast.
“We had a significant rain event, with over 200 (millimetres) in a 24-hour period,” said Clint Cadwallader, operations manager for Western Forest Products.
A regular visitor to a small, public cabin along the shore in the area, Moffatt left Port Hardy for Raft Cove last Tuesday morning, Nov. 4, planning to stay until Friday afternoon.
When she had not returned by Friday afternoon, Moffatt’s friends and family called Port Hardy RCMP. Waiting until daylight returned Saturday, a helicopter crew from Campbell River Search & Rescue, carrying newly arrived Port Hardy RCMP Constable Shelley Schedewitz, braved heavy winds and low visibility to overfly a small, public cabin where Moffatt had been staying. But a man popped out and gave the crew a thumbs-up, and they returned to base.
Moffatt’s friends, who had no knowledge of the surfers, said something was wrong with that picture and insisted she should be in that area.
On Sunday, Nov. 9, the SAR crew returned in slightly better weather to find Moffatt and her 140-pound Great Dane-Lab cross, Lucy, waiting in her jeep a couple hundred metres from the slide.
After putting down in a gravel pit a short distance below, the crew walked up to collect Moffatt and Lucy for what turned out to be the first helicopter ride for either.
“The pilot just about had a fit when he saw her,” Moffatt said. “He asked, ‘Is she going to be all right?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
In the end, Lucy laid down and calmly watched the passing scenery while Moffatt and Schedewitz alternately petted her.
The rescuers commended Moffatt on her preparations for the trip, including letting friends know exactly where she was going, when she planned to return, and packing extra food, water and clothing.
“I’ve done this hundreds of times,” she said. “I know you have to be extra careful and bring extra supplies. Some people think I’m crazy to go out there myself with the dog, but when you’re familiar with the bush and you take precautions, it’s not dangerous.”
With threatening weather approaching and having run out of dry wood, Moffatt had actually decided to cut her trip short on Thursday.
She had finished packing up and cleaning the little cabin and was preparing to leave when the group of three surfers arrived.
“I told them, ‘It’s all yours; I’m leaving,’” she said. But Moffatt had traversed just a few kilometres back down the road toward Palmerston when she found her path blocked by a large slide of mud, rocks and trees.
She returned to apprise the surfers, who had driven through that area no more than a half-hour earlier.
“I told them we were stuck,” Moffatt recalled. “They said, ‘What, you can’t get around it in a 4×4?’
“I said, ‘You don’t understand the situation.’”
After inspecting the roadblock, they invited Moffatt to return to the cabin and stay with them, but she elected to camp out in her vehicle within sight of the slide. The surfers did return at least once a day to check on her and bring extra food. It was during one of these visits, while two of the men were bringing her coffee, that the helicopter first flew past to get the thumbs-up from the third surfer.
After she and Lucy were evacuated the following day, the helicopter returned to pick up the surfers, who initially said they would stay and surf for a few more days before being coaxed into departing.
They were taken to Port Hardy, where Moffatt ran into them one more time as they gassed up a rental car for a trip to Victoria. The fate of Moffatt’s Jeep and the surfers’ vehicle remains uncertain. Initially told it could be months before road crews cleared the slides and repaired damage to Ronning Main, Moffatt said she learned Monday that timeline could be moved up substantially.
“I was told they’ve got some (logging) equipment that was working between the two slides on that road,” she said. “So I might be able to get my Jeep sometime next week.”
WFP’s Cadwallader said there are a number of different authorities and users responsible for different road systems in the area, including WFP, BC Timber Sales, and the Ministry of Transportation. They and their contractors are working jointly and individually to clean up following the storm.
“We’re mostly through the assessment, and are making a joint action plan,” he said. “For the time being, if people want to go to Cape Scott and the San Jo Bay area, that’s fine. It’s best to avoid places like Raft Cove and Ronning Main right now, and Hecht Bay is closed indefinitely.”
WFP operations planner David Steele said the Ronning Main area where Moffatt’s Jeep was stranded is under the jurisdiction of BC Timber Sales, which could not be reached for comment.
Cadwallader cautioned travelers that active hauling continues on open roads. Visitors are urged to stop in at WFP’s office in Port Hardy or in Holberg to educate themselves on the status of roads before venturing to remote areas.