'One of my biggest fears is fuel': Tofino, Ucluelet suffer supply shortages after rockslide
VICTORIA -- Travellers to and from western Vancouver Island will have only two chances to get in or out this weekend before the province shuts down Highway 4 to repair damage from a rockslide.
The rockslide at a construction site near Kennedy Lake closed the highway throughout the day Thursday, cutting off the West Island communities of Tofino and Ucluelet from the rest of the island.
On Friday, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation said the highway at Kennedy Hill would have limited openings for essential travel only between noon and 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Travel will be restricted to passenger vehicles and light pickups only.
All vehicles will be screened at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction and at Sproat Lake, where larger vehicles will be turned around, the ministry says.
Outside of those times, the highway will be off limits to all traffic for "a lenghty closure" while a temporary 20-metre bridge is installed, according to the province.
Mike Pearson, a district manager for the transportation ministry, says workers will begin installing the bridge – which is similar to a Bailey bridge or forestry bridge – over the existing road surface Friday night. He estimates the bridge will be open "in the next day or so."
Pearson says the restriction to "essential travel" will be left to the discretion of drivers. Documentation will be not be required to prove things like medical appointments. However, large vehicles will be turned away no matter what.
The province says the goal is to have Highway 4 reopened to single-lane alternating traffic to regular and commercial vehicles on Sunday afternoon.
'One of my biggest fears is fuel'
Mike Tomilin, general manager of Tofino's only grocery store, says the shop is running out of produce and milk as the store's main deliveries were due to arrive Thursday during the closure.
"We’re already looking into barging," Tomilin, general manager of the Tofino Co-op, tells CTV News. "That would be our only alternative.”
While the workaround would be expensive, he says his suppliers are ready to bring in food and fuel by any means necessary.
"One of my biggest fears is fuel right now," he says. "Probably tomorrow night we’ll have to cut off fuel to customers and keep it for emergency use.”
Tofino resident Karen Brodie tells CTV News the shelves at the Co-op were going bare around 5 p.m. Thursday.
Photos provided to CTV News show a lack of fresh produce in the grocery aisles.
The obstruction is roughly 15 kilometres from Ucluelet where construction crews have long been working to upgrade the precarious highway pass.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation says that crews had been conducting a scheduled controlled blast in the area, which resulted in a “larger than anticipated rockfall” spilling onto the road.
On Thursday night, the ministry said a portion of the shoulder and roadway surface had fallen away.
"The contractor needs to build that area back up to highway grade before the road can reopen," the ministry said.
The contractor worked through the night, placing 15 dump trucks of fill an hour to build up the base.
"While some progress was made, the base did not build as quickly as project engineers had estimated," the province said Friday.
"Overnight, the decision was made to bridge the damaged section of highway to open it as soon as possible."
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told CTV News Thursday the rockslide knocked out a large retaining wall, leaving residents and travellers stranded.
"We are cut off from civilization – or maybe it's that civilization is cut off from us – but the road is closed and there's no traffic access from the West Coast," Osborne said.
"With a complete closure like this we're looking at using a helipad at Tofino hospital in case of an actual life-threatening emergency," Osborne said.
On Friday, the mayor took to social media to share a story of a Tofino family who apparently took a boat across Kennedy Lake where they were met by a shuttle service to take them to the Nanaimo airport.
Pacific Coastal Airlines, which typically does not fly into or out of Tofino on Saturdays during the winter months, announced Friday it would add one flight each way between Tofino and Vancouver on Saturday afternoon.
"The airline will reach out to the hospital and health association to determine if there is a need for the airline to provide cargo services for essential medicine or medical supplies," the airline said in a statement Friday.
In July, blasting in the same area caused several large boulders to fall onto the roadway, closing the highway for several hours.
The latest information on the road closure is available on the DriveBC website.