Aerial look at slide scene (Penticton)

 Aerial look at slide scene (Penticton)

Courtesy – Madison Erhardt

UPDATE: 2 p.m.

The Ministry of Transportation says between 4,000 and 6,000 cubic metres of rock fell at the scene of a rockslide north of Summerland.

There is continued movement at the site, and Highway 97 remains closed.

A geotechnical assessment has been completed, and the plan is to work at the top of the slope to locate solid rock, then drill and blast. This will provide more stability and allow staff to remove the debris.

The first blast is expected this afternoon at about 3 p.m., and “will provide a better indication of how we will proceed and the expected timeline,” the ministry says.

“Safety is our top priority, and we will reopen the road as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Light vehicles can take the 201 Forest Service Road detour, which is being actively maintained to ensure safe conditions. Expect an additional 90 minutes travel time.

Larger vehicles and commercial trucks must detour via Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highway 3A to Highway 3.

UPDATE: 1:40 p.m.

Castanet is in the air and headed to the scene of the rockslide north of Summerland, where we will report live from a helicopter above the scene.

Blasting is expected as crews work to clear the debris blocking Highway 97.

The Ministry of Transportation has yet to provide a timeline of when the highway might be reopened.

ORIGINAL: 11:50 a.m.

Crews are continuing to work on a rockslide along Highway 97 north of Summerland this morning that halted traffic between Kelowna and Penticton over the weekend.

Penticton MLA Dan Ashton says his biggest concern is getting the highway open, once it is safe.

“I understand that people are facing challenges right now with their work schedule, and I urge everyone to give the professionals time to make sure this highway is safe,” he said.

A blast line has been drawn out by rock scalers and geotechnical engineers, and “they will take the rock back to an area of stability,” said Ashton.

Once this happens, and if all goes well, they will start to remove the debris off the highway.

“Hopefully, at some point in the future, they'll be able to open the highway to limited traffic. This isn’t today … we are hoping blasting can take place today.”

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff were unavailable for comment on when the highway might reopen.

Frustrated drivers took a risky route behind the rockslide over the weekend, and got themselves into trouble.

Penticton Search and Rescue manager Randy Brown said his crews had to rescue eight people in just 24 hours, who were trying to drive around the rockslide on Garnett Valley Road.

“We left the vehicles up there, but that area is now all blocked off,” he said.

Brown said RCMP will be placing barriers on the road so more motorists don’t access the back road, which is more like a trail and difficult even in summer months.

Drive BC says drivers can detour via Highway 97 C, Highway 5A, Highway 3A and Highway 3. There is also an alternate route via the 201 forest service road by Highway 33 and McCulloch Road near Big White or Warren Avenue Carmi Avenue in Penticton.

“Use caution on those roads, they aren’t highways. They are forest service roads that have been plowed and sanded to allow traffic to go through,” said Ashton.

Rocks started to move on Thursday evening and sent large boulders tumbling down to the highway as vehicles were driving on it.

“The rocks that have come down, way bigger than cars for sure and almost as big as some people's small houses,” said Ronda Barzilay, who drove by the scene about 8:45 p.m.

Ashton said the cold is posing difficulty for workers, who will be drilling today before the blasting.

The slide was caused by freezing and thawing conditions, according to the province.

DriveBC is expected to release another road update at noon on Monday.

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