Body of Jewish Man Recovered After B.C. Mudslide, 3 Still Missing

Rescue crews in southeastern B.C. are still working to recover the bodies of three people missing after a massive landslide last week.

The body of one of four people believed to have been trapped under the slide was found Sunday, as authorities said the rescue mission had changed into a recovery effort.

The B.C. Coroners Service took over the operation following the "reluctant" decision that "there was no longer any hope that anyone who had been caught in the slide could be found alive," the service said in a statement.

RCMP said the body found Sunday appears to be that of a man.

Valentine Webber, 60; his two daughters Diana Webber, 22, and Rachel Webber, 17; and Petra Frehse, 64, have been missing since the landslide hit Thursday in Johnsons Landing, B.C.

Frehse is a German retiree who would spend part of her year living in a home next door to the Webbers.

Valentine Webber and his two daughters, are believed to be Jewish.

At least three houses were engulfed when the wall of mud, rock and trees cascaded down a hillside Thursday morning.

The Webbers were about to sit down to breakfast moments before the slide hit, Lynn Migdal, the women's mother and Valentine Webber's ex-wife, told CBC News last week.

For days since the slide, dozens of rescuers searched the slippery terrain under a relentless downpour. With the discovery of an adult male body in the rubble late Sunday, the RCMP handed the operation over to the B.C. Coroner's Service.

Searchers continued to work at the slide site Monday morning, but their efforts were being hindered by a lack of land stability.

"There's been a system put in place with lookout posts and a warning system so that searchers below can be alerted at a moment's notice if there's some more activity higher up the mountain," said Jeremy Zandbergen with the Ministry of Forests.

"There is still some material perched up there, and there are eyes continuously on that mountain to double-check the safety of the crews down below."

Believed to be Valentine Webber

The body, believed to be that of Valentine Webber, was found near the foundations of a home that was swept away in the slide.

RCMP Const. Dan Moskaluk said they have informed the family of the deceased that the body was recovered.

"Our condolences to the Webber family for their loss, and again we offer our support and condolences to the family of Petra Frehse," the RCMP said.

Rescue teams were being called away from the site as the recovery effort proceeded.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark sent her condolences to the family and friends of the victims in a statement.

"At times like these, it is difficult to give up hoping for a miracle," Clark said. "Communities and governments have provided every possible response to this disaster, and nature has conspired against us in many ways."

The province's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, arrived on site Sunday and will have to decide whether to declare the missing victims legally dead if recovery efforts are unable to find their bodies.

"Searches for the remaining missing people are underway," she said, calling it a "very, very difficult time" for the victims' loved ones.

The frantic search for the Webbers and Frehse began shortly after 11 a.m. PT Thursday in the tiny community 70 kilometres northeast of Nelson and 450 kilometres east of Vancouver. But the search had to be suspended for the first half of the day on Friday because of further landslides in the area.

The rescue mission involved helicopters, geotechnicians, canine units, divers and industrial crews at various times.

Misaskim is working with Rabbi Mendel Friedman – the head of Toronto Hatzolah and Rabbi Shmuel Hecht, the Chabad Shliach of the Okanagan in B.C. along with other askonim to ensure proper kavod hames.

CBC NewsMisaskim 


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