JOHNSONS LANDING, B.C. - The labour-intensive and emotional task of digging for the remaining two people buried under a massive landslide in British Columbia continued Tuesday, with crews hoping the earlier discoveries of a young girl and her father will help them find the others.
Crews were using excavators and other heavy equipment to delve into two areas of Johnsons Landing, where the bodies of a German vacationer and a young woman were believed to be located.
"Because we did find two victims in the last couple of days, it did encourage us," said Barb McLintock for the BC Coroner's Service, which is co-ordinating the recovery efforts in the hamlet northeast of Nelson, B.C.
"Relief is the best word. There are no happy endings in this. What we're trying to do is give the families as much closure as possible."
Last Thursday's slide buried four people, including a man, his two daughters and a German traveller.
The body of 60-year-old Valentine Webber was uncovered Sunday, and the remains of one of his daughters were found the following day. Authorities have only said the remains of a young female were found Monday and have not confirmed whether the woman was 17-year-old Rachel Webber or 22-year-old Diana Webber.
One of the Webber girls remains unaccounted for, as does longtime summer resident Petra Frehse, 64.
On Tuesday, there were 24 searchers divided into two teams at the site, located along Kootenay Lake more than 200 kilometres southwest of Calgary. They were focusing their efforts on the area where the other two bodies were found and around the foundation of the cabin where Frehse lived.
McLintock said a technical expert based in the Kootenay region, who has worked on large-scale recovery cases for both the B.C. coroner and the RCMP, has been providing guidance about where to search.
"He's very good at figuring out, 'OK, if we know they were in the house and this is where the foundation of the house is, and this is the layout that we know from before, where are they likely to be?'" she said.
"He's been right on so far and we just hope he continues to be."
Three homes were destroyed when a creek burst and sent a powerful cascade of mud and trees rushing down onto Johnsons Landing, a remote community of 35 people.
Valentine Webber's body was discovered on Sunday. The following day, one of his daughters was found about three metres away. Her body was buried by roughly three metres of slide debris.
McLintock said it will take some time to identify the girl because her body is coated in mud, making visual identification much more difficult.
"In some cases, if you can do it using clothing and jewellery — it's usually easier than asking family members to go out and identify dead loved ones," she said.
The coroners office will use dental records or DNA if necessary, she said.
The province has said it plans to review what happened to determine whether any government policies should be changed.
A resident in the community noticed signs something was wrong the night before the hillside along Gar Creek collapsed. She sent an email about her concerns but it didn't reach the intended party until it was too late.
Premier Christy Clark has welcomed the review, but she said experts have already told her such slides are almost impossible to predict.
Another landslide that hit four days later in the town of Fairmont Hot Springs, 80 kilometres from the Johnsons Creek slide, did not injure anyone.
RCMP said on Tuesday they had received no reports of overdue travellers or missing people connected to that slide, which occurred at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday.
Police helicopters and dog teams have scoured the region to ensure no one was stranded, said Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.
About 600 people were initially stranded in an RV park after a bridge was washed out in the torrent of water, but crews restored their road access on Monday.
As well, late Tuesday numerous minor mudslides were reported near the town of Castlegar, about 200 kilometres southwest of Johnsons Landing.
The area received heavy rainfall which lead to flooding and mudslide concerns for some residents, who were evacuated from their homes by police as a precaution.
But, local officials said no one was in danger or had been injured due to the small slides and flooding.
— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver