Debbie Hebert thought she was dreaming.
But in reality the Hope resident was caught in the mudslide last Wednesday that saw up to 6,000 cubic metres of dirt and debris “whoosh” down the mountainside and spill over the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Still shaken by her close brush with death, Hebert spoke to reporters in Hope last Thursday about her ordeal that started with a tree suddenly falling onto the highway in front of her.
She slammed on the brakes, and then her Dodge SX was hit by a wall of mud and rolled three times before it was caught and held by trees and bushes in the meridian.
“It was very scary. I could hear big tumbling rocks above me,” Hebert said. “When the car stopped, I couldn’t get out. It was all black because of the mud everywhere.”
Except for a light behind her, where the car’s trunk had popped open.
“I undid my seatbelt, and I climbed out through the back,” said Hebert. “I made it out and I could see all the cars on the hill backing up – and it scared me because I thought they were all leaving me.”
She said when the mud burst through her car windows, it made a “whooshing” sound.
All she wanted to do was get out.
“I wanted air,” she said. “I didn’t want to suffocate.”
When Hebert emerged from the Dodge, seen in many of the media photos taken that day, she was covered in mud from head to toe.
“I looked liked the woman from the monster of the mud lagoon,” she said. “I was covered. You couldn’t even see my face.”
Amazingly, Hebert was not seriously injured, and a Kamloops nurse stayed with her until emergency crews arrived.
“I feel lucky to be alive,” Hebert said. “I don’t know how I made it, I really don’t.”
“I feel thankful, I feel blessed,” she said, “and I just feel someone was watching over me because I don’t know how I did that.”
But Hebert doesn’t feel like testing her good luck, and she won’t be driving that stretch of highway again any time soon, she said.
At least two significant mudslides have occurred in the same area, one in October, 2005 and another in July, 1997.
And there’s no guarantee another won’t strike, despite best efforts by the B.C. government.
“We live with a certain tolerance of what we consider normal risk,” said Kurt Edmunds, regional operations manager at the B.C. transportation ministry. “Whenever you have highways and mountains, you have the potential for problems.”
Last week’s mudslide started in the alpine area about 3,500 feet above the highway, apparently triggered by recent rain and snowmelt, and came sloshing down one of the creekbeds, which had apparently not been armoured or rip-rapped with large boulders.
Edmunds said “fairly extensive” work had been done in the area since 2002, but a ministry spokesman described the challenge as being like a melting ice cream cone: you know it’s going to spill over the cone – but where?
Meanwhile, ministry monitoring of the area has been “stepped up” and additional rip-rap works will be done, Edmunds said.