Rocks came tumbling down around 3 p.m. Tuesday, in the exact same spot on Highway 3 that has been closed twice in the past year.
Just weeks ago crews removed the rocks from those slides, reopened the road to three lanes and built a concrete wall barricade. None of those things stopped the rocks from hitting the roadway.
Doug Burlingame, a trucker for Ken Thomas Trucking in Princeton, was only a few vehicles behind where the rocks came down.
“Luckily no one was hurt,” he said while standing outside his logging truck. “I stopped in Keremeos to make a call and if I hadn’t I would have made it through fine and would be back in Princeton now.”
RCMP advised the road was going to be closed for the night just after 4 p.m. There was concern the rocks would continue to fall throughout the night.
As the slide happened just about an hour before school closed approximately 25 students who should have been headed home to Hedley were left stranded at Similkameen Elementary Secondary School. Students from Cawston had already transferred to SESS by time word had gotten out about the slide.
Heather Hibbs, who lives west of the rockslide, counts herself lucky she was visiting Penticton so she was able to pick her three children up at school.
She also picked up several other students who needed a place to stay.
“If I wasn’t here my kids would be stuck here for at least the night. Last time the road was closed for five days so I’m really glad I was here for them,” she said.
Allyson Savauer from All Safe, a traffic control company contracted by Argo, was stopping traffic headed west out of Keremeos Tuesday night.
“Most people have been really understanding. They understand it’s for their safety,” she said.
According to DriveBC the portion of Highway 3 affected now has lane closures and a 60 kilometre per hour speed zone is in effect. Motorists are asked to watch for and obey traffic control personnel.
The four-lane highway was closed for several days in January when rocks, some as large as cars, slid down the slope and onto the road about nine kilometres west of town, damaging two vehicles in the process.
There were six smaller slides at the site through March of this year, which followed an incident in 2003 that damaged four vehicles there, according to a government report obtained by the Penticton Western News through a freedom of information request.
“Therefore a total of eight recorded rock fall events have occurred with potentially serious consequences,” Transportation Ministry engineer Steve Pollak wrote to colleagues in a March 2014 email that outlines repair options.
Further slides, resulting in road closures and damaged vehicles, were reported at the site in May and June. The Transportation Ministry has plans for a second phase of repairs to the area that are to likely start next year, according to a spokesperson. It will include excavation of the upper slope to create a wider ditch and larger rock catchment area, followed by restoration of the highway to four lanes.