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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to tour Old Fort landslide

B.C.'s Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Mike Farnworth is in Fort St. John Wednesday to meet with local officials and emergency responders, and tour the Old Fort landslide.
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Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C.'s Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Mike Farnworth is in Fort St. John Wednesday to meet with local officials and emergency responders, and tour the Old Fort landslide.

Farnworth arrived in the morning and was expected to visit the Peace River Regional District's emergency operations centre in Dawson Creek. He's also expected to meet with PRRD Board Chair Brad Sperling and MLA Dan Davies, and tour the landslide by helicopter. 

Farnworth will give an update at the PRRD's office in Fort St. John at 3:30 pm.

The slide started Sept. 30, blocking and destroying Old Fort Road, the only road in and out of the community, as it slowly makes its way toward the Peace River. The slide is an estimated six million cubic metres in size, and growing. It's moving between five to 10 metres a day, and has triggered a number of other slides in the area. 

"Stress cracks have continued to form, land slippage has been observed, and the Old Fort Road continues to crack, buckle and slip," the regional district reported in its latest update on Tuesday evening.

Westrek Geotechnical Services, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and BC Hydro are collaborating and sharing information and data to assess the situation and the risk to the public, the environment, and infrastructure, the regional district says. 

The regional district has urged Old Fort residents and local groups wanting to help to stay out of the community, which remains under an evacuation order. RCMP have been called in to increase security at checkpoints in and out of the community, which includes trail access.

The evacuation order applies to 54 homes, and most residents have left. However, there are roughly half a dozen residents who remain down there, according to one resident, and many others have questioned the need for an evacuation. 

Officials have said residents may not be able to return home for months, with fears the slide will get worse as winter nears and snow starts to fall.

At a community meeting on Monday, residents expressed their frustrations about being able to collect their belongings and secure their homes. The regional district had planned to issue temporary access permits, however, those were suspended Tuesday morning.

The Peace Country River Rats had stepped up to arrange for boats to ferry evacuees in and out of the community on Wednesday to gather belongings, including pets, and to winterize their homes with the help of local contractors.

The area remains unsafe, and a plan is being established for residents to gather belongings when it's safe to do so, the regional district said in a public response to the group. 

All residents wishing to assist or have resources to assist can contact the PRRD emergency operations centre at 250-784-3200.