07/16/2012 08:25 EDT | Updated 09/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Johnsons Landing, B.C. Landslide: Remains Of Second Person Uncovered


JOHNSONS LANDING, B.C. - As young girls, Diana Webber and her little sister Rachel would trek into the bush in British Columbia's remote Interior for overnight camping trips. It made their mother nervous, but their outdoor-loving father cheered them on.

As they grew, Diana would grab a map, pick a random spot and navigate there, while Rachel was busy making friends with just about everyone she could in their hometown of Johnsons Landing, a tiny hamlet in southeastern B.C.

The sisters' next plan was to travel to an historic island near Ireland this fall, sleep in shuttered stone cottages and then depart by sailboat. The adventure was to serve as inspiration for a documentary they planned to make together.

Instead, their relatives are left mourning the lost futures of 22-year-old Diana, 17-year-old Rachel, and their 60-year-old father, Valentine, who were killed along with a German traveller when a massive landslide tore through the area last Thursday.

The body believed to be Valentine Webber was recovered on Sunday, when police and search-and-rescue officials acknowledged there was no hope anyone survived the landslide. His daughters remain missing, as does German national Petra Frehse, 64, who was a longtime vacationer in the community.

The RCMP and the BC Coroners Service confirmed Monday afternoon the remains of a second person, a female, had been located. The person's identity was not released.

The Webber sisters had a tight relationship, recalled their older cousin, Karen Jenkins.

Diana spent time in Los Angeles writing screenplays, but she recently returned to the hamlet to spend part of the summer with her family. Rachel had just graduated high school in Kaslo, a small town located across the Kootenay Lake.

"They lived the dream," Jenkins said Monday, noting Rachel and Diana grew up dividing their time between their mother's home in Florida and their father's idyllic home in Johnsons Landing, northeast of Nelson, B.C.

"That gives you a crazy awesome imagination for writing, as well, and you get a close bond with your family. The things in life that are important to you aren't necessarily going to a 9-to-5 office job."

The girls' father, Valentine, was an Irish man named after the saint whose birthday he shared, said Jenkins. He was an excellent sailor, who built the family home with his own hands and felt completely at ease living mostly alone in an isolated part of B.C.

"It's like he went with Mother Nature," said Jenkins, 37. "That's how I find peace and closure and acceptance. He wanted to be in the wilderness and he was with the people he loved the most."

Jenkins described Rachel as funny and creative. She loved to dance and act. She listened to Bob Dylan and the Beatles and loved films and photography from the 1970s.

"She was really wise and ahead of her time," said Jenkins. "She and her sister were very close, they would relate and joke about that. They were older souls."

The last time Jenkins saw Diana was last September. The cousins took a road trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, taking a 4 a.m. shuttle out to a spot where they were left to meditate over the expansive scenery.

But Diana scrambled over guard rails and down an escarpment into an out-of-bounds area to find her own serene space on the side of a cliff.

Despite the risks, Jenkins couldn't help but follow over the railing.

"Her purpose on the planet was to just take it on, take on the world," Jenkins said. "She was not afraid to do things. She was already travelled."

The BC Coroners Service took command of the disaster scene on Monday as the operation shifted from a search for survivors to a grim search for bodies.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe was at the scene assessing whether it was safe to recover the remains of the missing. Weekend rain and unstable ground had complicated those efforts, but crews were optimistic they would recover the victims, said coroner's spokeswoman Barb McLintock.

McLintock said the discovery of Valentine Webber's body would give the crews a better idea of where to look for his daughters.

The search involved 70 members of Vancouver's heavy urban search-and-rescue team. Sixteen members of that team returned home Monday after the focus of their mission changed .

"You're kind of hoping that someone’s possibly still alive, but you know that’s probably not likely because of the way the devastation is — there’s nothing left," Vancouver police Sgt. Craig Cairns, who led the team, told reporters.

"On the other hand, you're bringing closure to the family so that they’re actually able to say that my loved one is gone."

The B.C. government is already promising to review what happened. Steve Thomson, the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, told reporters in Victoria on Monday that the province would review the circumstances of the slide to determine whether any government policies need to be examined.

The ministry confirmed over the weekend that a government employee had received an email in the hours before the slide from a resident who became concerned about debris in a local creek. The email wasn't read until half an hour after the slide.

Meanwhile, road access was restored mid-afternoon to an RV park in the southeastern B.C. resort community of Fairmont Hot Springs, northeast of Cranbrook. On Sunday, a new slide Sunday afternoon sent boulders, trees and mud spilling through the centre of town.

No one was hurt, but nearly 500 people were trapped at the park overnight after a bridge washed out.

Four properties were damaged and most of the main lodge's 400 guests left while a damage assessment was underway, said resort spokesman Marke Dickson.

"The people were the most important thing, the people have been taken care of," Dickson said. "Now it's an opportunity for us to really assess what happened yesterday, to look at the damage, to ascertain what the costs are.... and to go forward and restore the place to its beauty."

One witness said he expected cleanup efforts to last a long time, after watching the water fling boulders like marbles.

"Nobody knew it was coming. All the people heard was a loud bang and then the roar of the body of water that came gushing down the canyon," said Doug Clovechok.

"It's truly a miracle no one was killed."

The two communities affected by the slides are both located in the B.C. Interior, about 80 kilometres apart.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

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