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Multi-ton boulders 'bounced like rubber balls' during Monday Keremeos rockslide

Susan Booten was contemplating breakfast early Monday morning when she first heard the sound -- the click-clack of small stones tumbling down the mountainside on the other side of the highway.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Site of Monday's Keremeos rockslide

It was a noise with which the long-term residents of Eagle RV Park Campground, just west of downtown Keremeos in the pretty Similkameen Valley, have apparently become familiar.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

After all, when the surface of the steep slope just a couple hundred meters from your front door is comprised of millions of loose rocks, a few can be expected to dislodge every now and then and roll downhill.

But at approximately 8:30 am, she heard something else. Something different. Something scary.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain," she said. "Every spring during thaw we have rocks coming down. It's really nothing. But this sounded like thunder. So I looked outside and saw there was no thunder cloud.

"And then it got even louder. So that’s when I went outside...standing out there in my nightie."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Before Booten's eyes as she gazed north was a sight she won’t soon forget. A multi-ton boulder almost the size of a subcompact car hurtling off the mountainside, across the highway and directly into her RV park.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Hwy 3 (background), Eagle RV Park (foreground) during road closure

"It was like rubber balls," she said, "bouncing across the highway. There was one big one and it broke into three."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The boulders "bounced" off Hwy 3 here

Booten kept her eyes on the largest and most dangerous chunk, now careening into the park perhaps 75 meters from where she stood. Its final "bounce" was its most lethal, sending it crashing into a trailer in the middle of the park.

"It bounced like a ball, and the biggest piece hit the fifth wheel down here," she said, gesturing to the wreckage. "And the fifth wheel came up. Straight up. And it came back down with a huge crash."

Booten ran back inside her own residence, threw on some clothes, and bravely made her way to the accident scene.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Susan Booten, amidst the aftermath

"It was pretty horrendous," she said. "My heart just dropped when I saw the front end of that fifth wheel go up in the air, because the front end of a fifth wheel is where the bedroom is.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"And I didn't know if there was anyone in it. So it was nice to get down there and see no one was hurt. Thank god she wasn't home."

Tuesday, one day later, as a helicopter flew overhead assessing the potential for more destruction and as Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure reps decided if and when Highway 3 should be re-opened, that severely damaged fifth wheel in the centre of the now-evacuated park looked much as it did moments after impact.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Fortunately, no other residences were hit. But that doesn't mean there wasn't peripheral damage. Indeed, there are welts and bruises across the boulders' path, including a crushed picnic table, smashed fence, gnarled bicycle, mashed septic, and much more.

But for the worst of it, you have to walk to the park's northern boundary, a few feet from Hwy 3's eastbound lanes and just slightly below them, right where the boulders and debris initially broke through.

Here, you'll find the tattered remnants of a covered storage area -- essentially a Quonset hut -- that was filled with resident's grown-up toys. Stuff like golf karts and motorcycles and riding lawnmowers.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The Quonset took a direct hit. And in a split second, numerous items were reduced to mangled metal.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Inside the hut, amongst the mowers and karts, were two pretty slick bikes -- an American Ironhorse and a Harley Davidson. They were stored, literally, just a few feet from each other.

One would ultimately be crushed. The other emerged virtually unblemished.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Go figure.

"Our RV is just two doors away (from the path of the largest boulder)," said Kevin Dugas, who lives in the park with wife Lana and owns the Ironhorse. The Dugases were in Banff when the rockslide hit, celebrating their anniversary and Lana's birthday.

But back home, their daughter was in their RV.

"Our daughter was sleeping when the boulders came down. Thankfully, she was fine. But it startled her awake, so she jumped out of bed, went outside and saw chaos, and phoned us in Banff.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"Oddly enough, the first thing she was worried about was my bike."

However, fate was not only with their daughter but with Kevin's motorcycle too. The boulder that annihilated the Harley seemingly bounced over the Ironhorse. In the end, the only blemish was a dislodged tail light cap.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Kevin Dugas with his bike and its dislodged tail cap

"It was on this side of the Quonset, tucked away, and Joe the owner had his bike on the other side," said Kevin, "and it looked like it hit his bike and jumped over and split up and went on from there."

The Monday rockslide isn’t the first natural disaster the Dugases have encountered since moving to the area several years ago.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Kevin and Lana Dugas

"When we first moved here," said Kevin, "they had a flood and we were evacuated for about a month. And then they had ice jams and we were on alert. Then the wildfires. And then we moved here, and now this."

"We're just waiting for the locusts," joked Lana, adding that it's the size of the boulders in the latest incident that has them most concerned.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Meanwhile, eyewitness Susan Booten, an "off and on" park resident for the past 30 years, said this is the first time the rockslide situation has left her "unnerved."

"You hear the rocks coming down now and then and you go out and look," she said. "But other than that, I've never really feared the big ones coming down. 'Til now. And now that's got me a little unnerved."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Indeed, she said, another big rock came down the mountain early Tuesday morning, at approximately 2 am.

"It probably wasn't as big," she said, "but you can always hear the boulders."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Susan Booten

But Booten, a security guard by trade, said she hasn’t yet seriously pondered moving from an area some might consider rather dangerous.

"I don’t know about moving," she smiled. "I kind of like it here."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

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