Coquihalla has been reopened

Update -- Feb. 22, 10:20 a.m.

The Coquihalla Highway has been reopened between Hope and Merritt following a significant closure due to numerous avalanches that blocked the roadway.

An assessment this morning by avalanche technicians determined that the avalanche control activities carried out yesterday were successful.

Highway maintenance crews worked throughout the evening to clear the highway, which was closed due to a storm cycle that created avalanche conditions not seen in the 27 year-history of the Coquihalla Highway.

Motorists are cautioned to watch out for reduced lane narrow widths between Exit 202 (Portia) to Exit 228 (Coquihalla Lakes).

They should also be aware of maintenance equipment still working in the area.

Original story -- Feb. 21

Helicopter crews dropped bags of explosives on an avalanche that has closed the Coquihalla Highway on Friday, but couldn't make the province's No. 1 east-west trade corridor safe enough for the public to use, says the transportation minister.

Highway 5 was closed Thursday, following a slide that was described by one search-and-rescue official as being "massive" and powerful enough to destroy houses.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said it will remain closed at least until Saturday afternoon, after about three metres of snow dropped on a weaker layer of snow along the highway's corridor during the past nine days, and despite "bombing missions" by three helicopter crews.

"We were able to get three helicopters in the air, and what the helicopters do is they fly over the avalanche zone," he said. "They effectively drop bags of explosives, they refer to it as bombing missions.

"The explosives explode on impact, and what that does is it dislodges the additional snow that is sitting precariously above these avalanche zones, the goal being to get as much of that snow to come down as quickly as possible."

Stone said the crews ran out of daylight Friday but there's still about three to four hours of "bombing work" to do. He said once the work is done the contractor can move into the avalanche zone on the highway and begin to remove the snow.

If visibility is good when day breaks Saturday, the helicopters can get back in the air and get the excess snow down, he said.

"I would hope that if Mother Nature co-operates we would hope to have the Coquihalla open by tomorrow afternoon."

(The Canadian Press, CHNL)

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