Mountain Slide 1965
So many years have past since Ocean Falls was exposed to a devastating mud and snow slide. Also, much has been reported and the disaster retold and retold. However, every person's experience and reaction to this mountain slide varies. Since this website is about Ocean Falls, and since the event of the mountain slide affected all Ocean Falls residents, I feel I should talk about it. I did participate in a minor way but have always felt, that I could have done more. So here is another version of this difficult night now reported on nearly 45 years later.
On January 13, 1965 I was alone in Ocean Falls since my wife was in Vancouver with our daughter. On the night of the slide, I had walked up to my friend Ken Smith's apartment to visit him and his family. Both Ken and I were avid radio amateurs and spent much of our spare time on this hobby.
We had had some quite cold days before this evening, but on this particular day it was raining quite heavy and the rain felt quite warm. At around 9:30 PM we lost all power in town. Ken and I decided to walk out to investigate what was going on. The town was very quiet and the warm rain felt strange after our cold days. We did not meet many people on the roads. However, we met some people who said, that they thought there had been a slide over on Burma road. We got concerned because this area was full of duplexes and some of our good friends lived there. We walked up the Burma wooden road in near total darkness past the Willow's apartments. We suddenly saw that the road had disappeared in front of us. A large section of the road was gone, and in the darkness, looking down towards the harbour, we saw a path of destruction. We could barely recognize the wreckage of the houses buried in the mud and rocks. There was an ghastly silence and all we could hear was the sound of water running through the debris. There was no sign of life and it looked impossible for anybody to go into the slide area in the darkness. Our friends house was standing a couple of houses away from the slide.
We decided to go to the mill to participate in whatever we could help with. It had been decided to move people into the mill from areas potentially exposed to possible additional slides. Most of the people had been moved into the mill's Finishing room. Inside the Finishing room there were a lot of wagons. These wagons were usually for waste paper. This night, all the wagons were full of children who were standing looking over the side of the wagons or sleeping. Quite a different sight to what we were used to.
There was a high degree of anxiety amongst us. Nobody knew how bad the slide had been, if there were people buried in the slide, or if the town was going to be hit by more slides. It was a rather frightening feeling and I believe all of us felt we were out of control of the situation. You definitely realize how weak mankind is, when faced with the force of nature. We also found out, that there was no communication systems working within the town and no communication to the outside world. This included both the B.C. Telephone services and the RCMP communication system. The electrical power had now been restored to most of the town. Ken and I talked to the mill manager, and asked him if he thought we should try to contact the outside world by our radios. He felt that we should try and Ken and I both went home to our separate homes and radio shacks to try to raise some awareness of the town's problems. Ken was on voice using his microphone and I was on telegraphy. I was sending out a special international telegraphy call identifying high priority traffic. I managed to contact a radio amateur in Seattle who again contacted an amateur in Terrace I believe. This person telephoned the chairman of Crown Zellerbach so that the company knew we had problems.
Both Ken and I stayed up most of the night passing traffic on behalf of the RCMP and the mill. Next day, there were many people from the outside who wanted to talk to Ocean Falls to find out if their relatives had been affected. Ken was handling this traffic using voice. I always felt bad about not having worked directly on the slide when efforts were made to discover the people still missing. To this day I can still see the mill's maintenance people and crane operators working across the harbour once daylight came. We could see the recovery work from our office windows.
However, there was really not much I personally could do, since the recovery work at the slide area was carried out by men from the mill, much more experienced in this type of work than I was. The town lost 7 people, one of my colleagues and his whole family was lost. The disaster had an large effect on the whole population in town. It was such a small, peaceful town and none of us were prepared to deal with such a disaster. Everybody were close in Ocean Falls because the town was so isolated and we were really not that many people. Ken and I later received letters from the RCMP and the Mill owners in Vancouver commending us on our radio services. However, we both felt very guilty when we received these letters because we were being commended where others had suffered so much. I never showed these letters to anybody and I never kept them.