Some visitors stranded in Stewart were flown out today after heavy rains and flooding chewed sections of HWY 37A and collapsed a bridge, isolating the town by destroying road access.
Just under half of the 117 tourists with vehicles stranded there this past week will make it out today on a charter plane which will circle to Stewart and back to Prince Rupert several times. Tomorrow, they will meet their vehicles in Prince Rupert that were loaded onto two barges this morning at 10:30 a.m. The barges take about 18 hours to get there from Stewart.
“There’s over 60 in this first group,” said Peter Weeber, Stewart’s chief administrative officer who has been co-ordinating relief efforts there. “Another 19 are being flown out tomorrow.”
The rest are willing to wait it out, explained Weeber, saying that transportation was prioritized by those with medical issues, flight and travel plans, hotel bookings, and R.V.s were a consideration too. The R.Vs were too big to take on the barges, said Weeber.
“There’s a full caravan of RVs that are still here because they would have took up the whole barges,” he said. “But they’re waiting it out.”
For those who will make it to Prince Rupert today and tomorrow, shuttles have been arranged to transport them to their vehicles, and hotels and accommodations have been booked, Weeber said, adding that other ways to get out of Stewart include taking a helicopter to Meziadin Junction on HWY 37A 65 kilometres east of Stewart where a shuttle service has been arranged to pick them up.
“Some of the people have left their rental cars here and we’ve loaded them on a barge,” said Weeber.
And those who plan on leaving Stewart by vehicle are waiting for the construction of a temporary single-lane bridge to be finished. The bridge will create to-and-from access to the community after parts of Bitter Creek Bridge crumbled early last week, leaving Steward isolated.
“The Ministry of Transportation has advised that it is still too early to give an exact date of opening,” posted Weeber in a Facebook group created to inform the public about flood-related events in Stewart. “Every effort is being made to have it open as soon as possible.”
A temporary date has been set for Friday September 16th, he said in a Facebook posting.
“Working with the ministry of transportation has been outstanding,” he said, as he and others have been working with the ministry to get road access up and running.”There is nothing more that could possibly be done to make this go any faster.
“Every contractor in our community has been working ’round the clock,” he said, explaining that equipment necessary to restore damage has been coming in daily on barges.
Despite it all, Weeber said this has been a positive experience for the community.
“The community spirit here is incredible, everyone has really pulled together to make tourists feel welcome,” he said.
Sunday evening, a community potluck was held.
“It was a full gymnasium full of tourists and locals,” said Weeber. “There must have been a couple hundred there, but they were coming in and out so there was probably more than that.”
Some community members also took tourists who couldn’t afford accommodations into their homes, he continued.
On the Facebook page dedicated to monitoring the Stewart floods, family members of those stranded thanked the community for all their efforts.
“Hey….that’s my mom and dad!,” wrote Julie Severance Jones on the Facebook page under a picture of those in line getting food at the potluck. “Thank you all in Stewart for taking care of them while they have been stranded in your wonderful loving town!”
After tomorrow’s plane, how long other tourists will be stranded is still unknown. But Weeber said, for many of the RVers, it is part of the adventure.
Updates on road conditions there can continue to be found on the Drive BC website, and that and other information can be found on the Stewart Flood Watch Facebook page.