The Ucluelet and Tofino areas were cut off by road from the rest of the Island on Thursday after Highway 4 was closed at Kennedy Lake because of damage and obstructions caused by a rock-blasting mishap.
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel said some residents missed chemotherapy appointments and others weren’t able to travel to airports to board flights.
In an update Thursday night, the Ministry of Transportation said it was unable to estimate a time for reopening.
The section of Highway 4 will be closed to traffic through Friday morning at least, the ministry said.
A contractor is working non-stop through the night to clear and repair the highway, and progress will be assessed in daylight.
A portion of the shoulder and travelling surface has fallen away. The contractor needs to build that area back up to highway grade before the road can reopen. “At present, the contractor is placing approximately 15 dump trucks of fill an hour to build up the base,” the ministry said.
First responders have been notified that emergency vehicles can get through the site if necessary.
Motorists were being turned around at Sproat Lake on one side of the closure and the Tofino/Ucluelet junction on the other.
The key route links Port Alberni to the Tofino/Ucluelet area. Both Tofino and Ucluelet have populations of about 2,000 people, with another 2,000 Indigenous residents in the area.
“I think it’s just a reminder of the simple fact we do live on the west coast and we do have natural disasters or power outages,” Noel said. “It just really brings to the forefront our vulnerability, especially during the [road] construction.”
The Ministry of Transportation said the road structure was damaged by rockfall from an overnight blast Wednesday at a spot where highway improvements are being made. The repair plan is to excavate the damaged road bed and replace the surface.
The project contractor had all of the necessary equipment and materials on site, the ministry said.
Noel said he has been pushing for a way to let travellers know in a timely way when such an event happens.
“I do continue to make demands or requests that some type of WiFi or communication be on either side of Kennedy Lake so when there is an upset, it can be relayed to the travelling public in a quicker format, rather than waiting for the ministry to make official announcements.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said she was watching the ministry’s regular updates on the situation Thursday and was concerned that an estimated 5 p.m. opening time had been scrapped.
Like Noel, she said local residents anticipate such road closures, whether from flooding, trees falling or an incident at a construction site. “So we’re prepared for it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not inconvenient, that’s for certain.”
Osborne said concerns can heighten if a closure stretches on for 24 hours.
“I think that begins to test the limits of people’s patience, especially with supplies needing to come in and out.”
She said the road problem is coming at the slowest time of year for the tourism hotspot, “so hopefully we’re not inconveniencing too many visitors.”