‘A gut punch’: Family of woman killed, man missing in B.C. landslide searches for answers

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Family mourns victims of Duffey Lake Road slide'
B.C. floods: Family mourns victims of Duffey Lake Road slide
The family of a Lower Mainland woman killed in a landslide near Lillooet is in mourning -- and hoping for closure for her missing husband. Mirsad Hadzic and his wife were travelling home when they were caught up in a massive slide on the Duffey Lake Road. He remains missing. Emad Agahi reports – Nov 18, 2021

As search-and-rescue crews continue to scour the site of a deadly landslide on a mountainous British Columbia highway, the brother of one of four people still missing is grappling with anxiety and grief.

“I honestly feel numb right now. We don’t know what’s going on with him. We just want to have some closure,” a tearful Nihad Hadzic told Global News Thursday.

“We’re between shock and crying and not knowing and helplessness.”

RCMP have confirmed Nihad’s sister-in-law was killed in the slide on Monday, while his 35-year-old brother Mirsad may have been swept away when a wave of rocks and debris cascaded onto a section of Highway 99 between Lillooet and Pemberton known as Duffey Lake Road.

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Crews work to clear Duffey Lake Road after fatal mudslide'
B.C. floods: Crews work to clear Duffey Lake Road after fatal mudslide

Officials believe two slides occurred at the site. The first stopped traffic, followed by a second slide that swept between five and seven vehicles off the road.

Story continues below advertisement

“We know his wife is deceased. That information we got. She was found in his truck and he was not,” Nihad said.

“I talked to one of the witnesses and she told me some of the people were outside the vehicles when it happened. So we are just assuming he was one of those people.”

The couple had taken a few days for a getaway in the Okanagan, leaving their two-year-old daughter with family in the Lower Mainland.

They were en route back from Vernon via Highway 99, which was the only road still open at the time of the slide when the disaster struck.

Read more: One woman dead, others missing, after mudslide sweeps cars off highway north of Pemberton, B.C.

Read next: This gibbon became pregnant while living in isolation. How is that possible?

Nihad last heard from his brother around 10 a.m. in Lillooet and called police when he was unable to reach the couple in the hours afterward.

“At first you don’t want to think its real, you don’t want to think it’s the truth. You think it’s fine — they’re just stuck, they have no reception, we’ll just hear from them any moment now,” he said.

“But the minutes and hours kept going by and hope kept fading.”

Story continues below advertisement

Nihad described his brother as “the life of the family,” an outgoing and active man who was always there to help care for their mother with dementia.

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Canadian military to assist with recovery'
B.C. floods: Canadian military to assist with recovery

He said the entire family has come together in grief and to care for his little niece.

“We have to shift our focus now onto her,” he said.

“But I just want to have some closure; I want them to find him. Even if it’s the worst-case scenario I want it, so I know that he’s found.”

Witnesses to the slide describe it as sudden and devastating.

Read more: Flood waters rise again in Abbotsford; 600 rescued as key pump station holds out

Read next: 18-year-old Ontario woman becomes youngest $48M jackpot winner – on her 1st lottery ticket: OLG

Story continues below advertisement

Gordon and Kathie Rennie were among the dozens of vehicles that were forced to stop when the first slide blocked the road.

Gordon had exited the couple’s truck to see if the road was passable when he heard the slope further give way.

“All of a sudden I heard what sounded like all the trees were crashing down. This one fellow ran by me, screaming, ‘Oh my God.’

“I turned around and this slide was massive.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Fears grow as rain forecasted to return'
B.C. floods: Fears grow as rain forecasted to return

He ran back to his truck, and said it was only seconds before people sprang into action to help, gathering tools, shovels and clothing.

“There was a whole bunch of people who were up there digging and helping to get people out,” he said, adding that the image of one survivor remains frozen in his mind.

Story continues below advertisement

“He was covered head to toe in mud. All you could see was his eyes,” he said. “He was shivering,”

Read more: B.C.’s historic flood seen in photo from space

Read next: B.C. gangster Conor D’Monte to be extradited to Canada on charges in rival’s killing

Kathie, who is trained in level three first aid, said she helped get people into warm vehicles and checked them for injuries, and praised the quick action of everyone on scene.

“It really, really restored my faith in humanity that we can get through things together if we work together. It was scary,” she said.

But she remains shaken by what she saw. Speaking about two women she saw looking for their son in the aftermath, she became visibly emotional.

“He could hear it (the landslide),” she said.

“He shoved his mom back in the car, said mom get back in the car and shut the door, and that was it.”

Click to play video: 'From the air: A look at the slide along Highway 99-Duffey Lake Road north of Pemberton'
From the air: A look at the slide along Highway 99-Duffey Lake Road north of Pemberton

As road and search crews continue their work in the area, Nihad said his family is remaining hopeful Mirsad will be found.

Story continues below advertisement

“This kind of news. You forget, you get carried away with life. And you get news like this and life just gives you a gut punch,” he said.

“We still have a slight glimmer of hope that he’s going to show up somewhere.”

He also expressed his gratitude to all the search-and-rescue personnel, police and first responders working to find the victims.

“I appreciate everybody out there doing the hard work, being out in this kind of weather and searching,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Transportation officials said Thursday that the route had been assessed by a geotechnical engineer, and that crews had begun trying to clear the road.

Crews said they were hoping to be able to reopen it to traffic by Sunday.

Sponsored content