Search and Rescue crews from 19 Wing Comox involved in Monday’s evacuations in Agassiz say it was bigger than anything they’d been involved with before.
“It was quite the sight to see, there were two mudslides with quite a few vehicles in between them,” said aviator Elsa Gilroy, an air operations support technician.
“We evacuated more people in one day than I will see likely in a career,” said deputy SAR tech leader, warrant officer Matt Davidson.
An image of Search and Rescue Cormorant helicopter 906 sitting on a boulder, muddy, tree and debris-strewn Highway 7 in Agassiz has been seen around the world.
It was the third Cormorant from Comox into the flood zone Monday and pilot Amanda Harris was at the controls.
“All of the aircraft used that same area so one would land then pick up as many people as they could, take off, then another one would be right behind it, land, pick up as many as they could and take off. It went on and on,” said Harris.
Lt.-Cmdr. Harris is on exchange from the U.S. Coast Guard, where she has taken part in rescues in hurricanes, but says she has never seen what she saw on Monday.
“Everywhere you were flying there was water,” she said. “There were waterfalls coming down where normally there aren’t waterfalls.”
The victims were trapped between two major mudslides on Highway 7. They had been in their vehicles overnight, many were out of fuel and food, shivering with no other way to get out.
“I think a lot of them were pretty traumatized so I think there was a lot of sadness in their eyes and quite a lot of stress especially with people with young families,” added Gilroy.
At the end of Monday, a total of 311 people, 26 dogs and one cat had been rescued.
“Our rescue helicopter number 906 did a total of 7 lifts, we flew 8.9 hours that day,” said Davidson.
“It really wasn’t until we got home at the end of the day that it all hit you and you’re like wow we just rescued 300 people,” said Harris.