02/20/2014 08:49 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Coquihalla Highway Shut Indefinitely After Major Avalanche

The Coquihalla Highway is closed with no forseeable opening due to a major avalanche near the Great Bear snowshed.

According to the Ministry of Transportation, some snow reached the highway, covering about a metre of roadway to a depth of about one metre.

Chilliwack Search and Rescue spokesperson Doug Frasier said his group helped escort 100 vehicles off the highway after the slide. He said the avalanche was class four, out of five, which is considered "very large and very destructive."

"You go up to class four and you would see a train car be buried and a small cluster be buried, it could cover up to four hectares of land," he said.

An hour after Chilliwack Search and Rescue was placed on standby, rescuers were advised they could stand down the search team and the helicopter.

The Coquihalla Highway had been closed from 11 km east of Hope all the way to Merritt for most of Thursday because of the high avalanche risk.  It is now closed indefinitely.

The Coquihalla was only reopened yesterday after being closed for more than a day Tuesday by a smaller avalanche near the summit.

Special warning issued

The Canadian Avalanche Centre has issued a special avalanche alert for this weekend.and into next week warning of a very high avalanche risk in most of the mountain ranges in B.C. and Alberta.

Canadian Avalanche Centre manager Karl Klassen says  a prolonged drought has left the surface of the snowpack in very bad shape.

"“Now the new snow is sitting on one of the worst weak layers we’ve seen in a few years. That weakness is currently anywhere between one and two metres deep so, when it’s triggered, the resulting avalanches are very large.”

Last weekend, an Alberta snowmobiler was killed on Boulder Mountain near Revelstoke, B.C.  Three skiers were rescued Saturday from an avalanche about a minute's helicopter flight from the Coquihalla the same day.

And last month, a snowmobiler died in an avalanche south of Valemount, B.C.

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