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Natural gas to Old Fort shut off, frustrating evacuees

Old Fort evacuees had power restored to their homes on Monday, but learned Wednesday that their natural gas supply had been shut off.
Old Fort landslide, temporary road access work, Oct. 20, 2018.

Old Fort evacuees had power restored to their homes on Monday, but learned Wednesday that their natural gas supply had been shut off.

In an update posted to its website, the Peace River Regional District said PNG isolated service to the community due to safety concerns for residents and public in the area.

"In the event that the evacuation order is lifted, PNG will immediately provide technical resources to assist the community to relight appliances and inspect for any natural gas service related issues," the regional district reported.

It's been 17 days since residents were ordered to evacuate on Oct. 7, a decision that came one week after nearby hillside collapsed and destroyed the only road in and out of Old Fort on Sept. 30.

The move to shut off gas supplies now has prompted confusion and concern among Old Fort evacuees, who have been waiting on pins and needles for updates about the landslide and when they'll be able to return home.

Getting the power back online meant appliances like furnaces could be turned on to keep homes heated for what has been and could remain a prolonged evacuation. 

"So they get power to the Old Fort, which gave us peace of mind that our homes have heat, and I see on the PRRD site that they turned the gas off," one resident Art Smith said.

"What's the point of getting power? This is getting to be a bigger joke every day."

A request for comment has been made to PNG, but has not yet been returned.

Evacuees have been frustrated over communications during the evacuation, getting their updates mostly through social media channels. In one Facebook group for Old Fort residents, regional district board chair Brad Sperling said he was not aware that gas was being turned off.

BC Hydro crews began working last week to replace dozens of poles toppled by the creeping landslide and to restring more than three kilometres of power lines to more than 50 homes that lost electricity Oct. 6.

BC Hydro district manager Ed Shuster says in a video statement that lights were on in all the homes in the Fort St. John suburb by late Monday.

The regional district is maintaining the evacuation order. Residents in a handful of properties west of the main slide area were allowed to return last week, but most of the homes are still vacant.

Evacuees with permits have been able to enter to gather supplies, and the regional district says 10 owners whose business vehicles were trapped when the only road to Old Fort buckled Sept. 30 were allowed to collect them on Tuesday.

The district says it will continue to allow removal of business vehicles, but owners still require a valid permit to enter the evacuation zone.

A cause of the landslide, which was first detected Sept. 30, has not been determined, and geotechnical engineers are still uncertain when the earth will stabilize.

The regional district says it expects a report from its geotechnical experts this week.

In a video update, the regional district praised the response and offers of help from the community. 

That includes: 11 offers of the use of truck and trailers; 28 offers of assorted services including dental supplies, diapers & wipes, laundry services, babysitting, play space, transportation, fostering pets, and places to have fundraisers; 25 river boats offers to assist in the movement of people and goods; 40 people have offered to move and load boxes, and 15 people have offered to prepare food and meals. There have also been 17 offers of housing, the regional district says.

— with files from Canadian Press

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