North Vancouver dam tragedy prompts calls for emergency warning system

Click to play video: 'Concerns over no warning system on Cleveland Dam'
Concerns over no warning system on Cleveland Dam
Concerns over no warning system on Cleveland Dam – Oct 3, 2020

The unplanned release of a huge volume of water from North Vancouver’s Cleveland Dam has prompted calls for a new warning system at the facility.

The Thursday tragedy left one man dead and another missing and sent a number of other people in the Capilano River valley scrambling to safety.

Cody Mathias, a fish guardian with the Squamish Nation was further downstream when he saw the water rushing towards him that day.

Read more: Deadly North Vancouver dam had no warning siren, 1 man still missing: officials

“I saw it just before coming around the corner and I started yelling, ‘oh, the river is going to get high,'” he said.

“And it just rose right up. Within seconds it was maybe six, seven feet high.”

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Mathias’ son William Joseph captured dramatic images of what he described as a small “tsunami” on the river.

“It was just scary how fast it rose,” he said. “I was hoping no one got swept away.”

Click to play video: 'Second victim dies in Capilano River dam accident and flash flood'
Second victim dies in Capilano River dam accident and flash flood

Both men have spent decades on the river, and say while they’ve seen water levels that high before, they’ve never seen them rise with that kind of speed.

The disaster had both men calling for a system to warn fishers and other recreational users in the case of an emergency.

“Maybe have a light under marine drive bridge, a light showing the water is going to rise so we know if it is coming and we can get out safely,” suggested Joseph.

“They should have horns or something like they did back in… I don’t know, I guess the 50s?” said Mathias.

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Click to play video: 'One person killed after sudden water release from North Vancouver dam into Capilano River'
One person killed after sudden water release from North Vancouver dam into Capilano River

On Friday, Metro Vancouver Regional District commissioner Jerry Dobrovolny said the Cleveland Dam does send a notification to the operations centre when it’s opened, but there is no “public-facing” alert system.

BC Hydro, which operates 82 dams at 40 locations across B.C. says all of its facilities where the release of water could cause a hazard are equipped with some kind of public alert system.

READ MORE: Crews search for missing person after dam opened during maintenance, flooding Capilano River

“The sirens are intended to warn river users of sudden or unplanned water flow changes,” the Crown corporation said in a statement.

“This warning is for people who are within the river channel either swimming, fishing, rafting, kayaking or walking or standing near the water flow.”

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BC Hydro says it also uses signage and physical barriers to keep people out of dangerous areas.

Joseph, who’s been fishing on the Capilano River since he was six and says the community of anglers in the area is tight-knight, told Global News he hopes a similar system is implemented soon.

“I want to know we will be safe if it happens again,” he said.

“Having someone close to you get swept away, it could be in front of your eyes, that’s just devastating to us.”

— With files from Julia Foy

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