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Penticton woman survives rockslide

The first thought that went through a Penticton woman's head, Monday, when she was caught in a rockslide was "oh crap this is going to ruin my day."

Karen Searle, 65, was on her way from Penticton to Vancouver on Highway 3, west of Keremeos, when rocks broke loose from the hillside above and came crashing down on to the road.

"There were a couple of rocks on the road that I was focused on avoiding and more started rolling down," she said, Tuesday, when she returned to Keremeos to get belongings from her car. "Then I looked up and saw the major slide coming down with huge boulders."

The next thing she recalls is the airbag deploying in her Hyundai Sonata and the air being filled with smoke, steam and dust, so much that she couldn't see anything.

She grabbed her purse and cell phone and had to use her foot to open the door because it was stuck.

Once she got out she went to the side of the road to see what went on. The car ahead of her stopped and some young guys came back and asked if she was alright. That section of the road is a dead zone, so she was also fortunate an RCMP officer coming up from Princeton arrived on the scene.

She further described everyone who stopped to help as wonderful.

"It was a very efficient group of people," she said.

Searle further recalls a fabulous fireworks show from the rockslide taking out power poles at the location.

The best way to sum up the incident was it was surreal, just in slow motion, she explained.

As for the aftermath, the Penticton woman said she went to the hospital in Princeton, but was back home in Penticton by 8 p.m..

Other than bruising on her wrists, she claimed she was in good shape the next morning.

"I woke up this morning just fine," she said. "Maybe it hasn't hit me yet. It all turned out perfectly. My husband is happy not to be a widower today."

Her husband Bob Searle, who was with her in Keremeos the next day, said "he was very, very fortunate to have her come home in one piece and it makes you take stock of life again."

Both Searle's vehicle and a second one involved in the slide were towed to Sportsman's Corner Towing impound lot on Tuesday morning.

Searle's vehicle was badly damaged in the front, while the other car, a red Honda Civic, appeared to have been hit in the rear.

The owners of that vehicle were not officially identified. And as of Tuesday afternoon had not come by to retrieve anything from the car.

The day began with an aerial assessment at the site of the slide to determine if it was safe for workers. There was some activity in the morning, but rocks of all sizes began raining down on the highway again, forcing the work to stop.

The Ministry of Transportation subsequently decided to keep the highway closed in both directions overnight due to the additional rockfall, according to Steve Sirett, with the ministry.

An additional assessment will be made Wednesday morning to determine when the highway can be opened.

For now, traffic is advised to use Highway 5A in Princeton and 97C for Penticton and Kaleden residents.

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