Disasters


DISASTERS include both catastrophic accidents and natural disasters that claim a large number of lives or are otherwise significant. BC is particularly prone to certain types of natural disasters because of the nature of its CLIMATE and terrain (see PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY). Coastal areas experience heavy rainfall and severe Pacific storms that imperil shipping. The Interior is characterized by steep mountain slopes, high snowfall and unstable rock formations, all of which contribute to LANDSLIDES and AVALANCHES. Seismic activity regularly occurs in the coastal MOUNTAINS, and shifting tectonic plates both on- and offshore pose the threat of a massive EARTHQUAKE, perhaps the greatest natural disaster of all. Disaster response activities are coordinated by the provincial government's Provincial Emergency Program (see also SEARCH AND RESCUE).

The list that follows is only a sampling of some of the worst disasters that have occurred in BC.

Avalanches

  • 4 March 1910, a snow avalanche in ROGERS PASS kills 62 men working to clear the CPR main line of an earlier blockage. It was the highest number of lives lost in a single railway accident in BC history and led to the construction of the CONNAUGHT TUNNEL.
  • 9 Jan 1965, avalanche of rock buries a 3-km stretch of the HOPE–PRINCETON HWY, killing 4 motorists (see HOPE SLIDE).
  • March 1991, nine heli-skiers were killed on the PURCELL MOUNTAINS in GOLDEN, B.C., in one of the best-known heli-skiing areas in the world.
  • 28 December 2008, eight snowmobilers from the small mining town of SPARWOOD, B.C. were killed in an avalanche in nearby FERNIE.
  • 29 January 2016, five men, all snowmobilers from Alberta, were killed in an avalanche in the Renshaw area east of McBRIDE.

Mining

  • 3 May 1887, an explosion and fire at a NANAIMO coal mine kills 150 men, the worst mining disaster in BC history (see COAL MINING, VANCOUVER ISLAND).
  • 1888, another explosion at a WELLINGTON coal mine kills 77 miners (see COAL MINING, VANCOUVER ISLAND).
  • 22 May 1902, an explosion at Coal Creek mine near FERNIE kills 130 miners; BC's worst 20th-century mine disaster (see COAL).
  • 1930, an explosion in a coal mine at BLAKEBURN claims 45 lives (see COAL).
  • 4 August 2014, a tailings dam collapse at the Mount Polley open-pit COPPER and GOLD mine sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into QUESNEL LAKE, Hazeltine Creek and other waterways; it was the largest mine-waste disaster in Canadian history.

Transportation

  • 26 May 1896, a street railway plunges through the POINT ELLICE BRIDGE in VICTORIA, killing 55 people. It was the worst transit disaster in Canadian history to 2000.
  • Jan 1906, the steamer VALENCIA breaks up on the rocks on the west coast of VANCOUVER ISLAND near PACHENA POINT, claiming the lives of 126 passengers and crew.
  • 1913–14, railway construction through the Fraser Canyon (see FRASER R) causes the HELLS GATE BLOCKADE.
  • 25 Oct 1918, the CPR coastal steamer PRINCESS SOPHIA breaks up on a reef in Lynn Canal; all 343 people aboard are lost.
  • 9 Dec 1956, a Trans-Canada Airlines plane smashes into MT SLESSE near CHILLIWACK, killing all 62 people on board in BC's worst AVIATION disaster. The wreckage was not discovered until the following May.
  • 8 July 1965, a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight explodes in mid-air near 100 MILE HOUSE on its way to PRINCE GEORGE from VANCOUVER, killing all 52 people on board. The cause of the explosion was never determined, though it was believed to be a bomb.
  • 11 Feb 1978, a PACIFIC WESTERN AIRLINES flight crashes on landing at CRANBROOK, killing 43 people.

Construction

Earthquakes

  • 27–28 March 1964, the largest recorded TSUNAMI on the BC coast, created by an earthquake in Alaska, surges up ALBERNI INLET and smashes into PORT ALBERNI, causing $10 million in property damage.

Epidemics

Fires

  • 13 June 1886, clearing fires burn out of control and in less than an hour claim at least 8 lives and destroy almost every building in the young Vancouver townsite.
  • July–Aug 1938, the Bloedel Fire (see GREAT SAYWARD FIRE) destroys 300 sq km of FOREST between CAMPBELL RIVER and COURTENAY on VANCOUVER ISLAND.
  • 6 Mar 1945, fire touches off an explosion on board the freighter GREEN HILL PARK, killing 8 people, in Vancouver's worst waterfront disaster.
  • Summer 2003, tens of thousands of residents in southern BC are forced from their homes as a number of forest fires threaten to overrun communities. In KELOWNA, close to 250 homes are destroyed.
  • 2018 was a record-breaking year for wildfires in B.C., with 2,115 fires and 1.35 million hectares burned.

Floods

  • May–June, 1894, the FRASER R floods, drowning the entire valley west of CHILLIWACK and washing away homes and businesses, causing millions of dollars' worth of damage and leading the government to begin diking the river.
  • May 1948, the FRASER R overflows its banks, resulting in $15 million worth of property damage in the valley.