A Vancouver man who escaped Monday’s deadly mudslide on Highway 99 said he’s grateful for the kindness of complete strangers during the harrowing ordeal.
Noah Morse and his brother-in-law, Luke, were travelling the long route home from a family funeral near Merritt when they encountered a few rocks and boulders scattered along Duffey Lake Road about 15 minutes past Lillooet.
With no closures or alerts reported on DriveBC, the provincial service for highway information and notifications, the pair continued driving until they came upon a line of stopped vehicles.
Morse said they exited their jeep to see what was going on, and learned the cars had come to a halt due to an earlier slide.
They got back inside their vehicle and turned the engine on – but it was too late.
“In a split second, it just hit us,” Morse told Global News.
“It was just a roar, you could feel it.”
Morse said hearing the mountain move and trees breaking was haunting.
“Something that I’ll never forget, it’ll be in me forever.”
The pair’s jeep flipped forcefully a few times he said, before landing upside down and sideways near some trees.
“We realized we we’re alive,” said Morse.
After opening their eyes in heavy, dark and sinking mud, Morse said his first thought was his 10-month-old son, Bastion.
“It’s just this thing in your head that you’re like, this isn’t taking me.”
Morse said survival mode kicked in and he believes the jeep moved a little bit, allowing them to make their escape.
“That’s when I saw daybreak, daylight come through my side through the trees, and just we just were able to crawl out of my side somehow.”
Soaking wet and covered in mud, both men managed to climb through the trees to the road – where they saw two women also caught between the two mudslides.
“They were looking for a loved one that was not there anymore,” said Morse.
Even during their panic, Morse said the women managed to grab jackets for him and Luke.
Gordon Rennie, who stepped in to assist with his wife Kathie, a trained advanced first-aider with years of experience in the construction industry, described seeing a man which turned out to be Morse, stumble out of the slide coated in sludge.
“He was covered from head to toe with mud,” said Gordon.
“The only thing you could see was his eyes.”
Morse said an off-duty firefighter got over the slide with a rope and rescued him – before he was taken to the Rennies’ truck – where Kathie wrapped him up in her husband’s clothes.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that somebody could walk away from that. Ever, ever,” Kathie told Global News on Thursday.
Morse said his brother-in-law stayed to help with the search and was clothed and taken care of by a group of hunters, who also jumped in to help at the scene.
Despite not knowing what else might hit them, Morse said the band of random “angels” pushed forward to make sure everyone was OK.
“I’ll never forget the looks of people looking up at the mountain, just kind of knowing it’s there, knowing the possibility,” said Morse.
“You could see the fear of ‘Is it going to happen again?’”
Morse said a snow removal truck was eventually able to push enough debris off the original slide to clear a path for vehicles.
Both he and his brother-in-law made it to Pemberton, where Morse said they walked into the local health centre’s emergency room like zombies – but with a renewed faith in the humanity that got them there.
Seeing the mangled jeep wreck in Global News aerial footage was unbelievable, Morse said.
“It’s just kind of affirmation of the impossible,” he said.
The body of a Lower Mainland woman buried in the slide was discovered Tuesday and officials confirmed Saturday they had found the remains of three other men. One man remains missing.
Morse was reunited with his wife Julie and their baby Thursday, after the two took a flight home from Kamloops. He said their thoughts are with the families of those who didn’t make it out.
“I can’t get it out of my head and I don’t know if I ever will,” he said.