July 30, 2008 / 6:59 PM / 9 years ago

Western Canada highway buried by boulders

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A small tour bus narrowly missed being crushed in a massive landslide in Western Canada that buried a highway that is scheduled to play a key role in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Officials warned on Wednesday it could take at least five days to remove the tons of debris that fell on the Sea to Sky highway and adjacent Canadian National rail line south of the town of Squamish, British Columbia.

Some of the boulders that crashed down were the size of trucks, and reporters who visited the scene at Porteau Cove were kept far back out of concern that the rock face overhanging the highway was still unstable.

No injuries were reported in the slide, which happened late Tuesday night, but police admit they do not know for certain if any vehicles were trapped under the debris so heat sensing equipment was used to survey the site.

A small bus headed to the resort community of Whistler with two people was traveling through the area when the driver heard the falling rocks and avoided the slide, but not before several windows on the vehicle were smashed.

“Fortunately the driver kept going, even though the whole thing was rocking,” passenger Luis Araujo told CBC News, describing the scene as sounding like they were driving through a massive hail storm.

The Sea to Sky highway is the only direct link between Vancouver and Whistler, where alpine skiing and several other events will be held during the 2010 Winter Olympics on Canada’s Pacific Coast.

The highway is undergoing an upgrade costing nearly C$800 million ($782 million) in advance of the Games, but officials said there was no road work being done in the immediate area of the slide.

Vancouver and Whistler are about 125 km (80 miles) apart via the Sea to Sky highway, but with the road blocked to traffic drivers are now forced to use an alternative route of about 450 km (280 miles).

Transport officials told reporters it could take at least five days to reopen the road, in part because engineers have to determine the stability of the overhanging rock face before clean-up crews can begin their work safely.

The area of the slide is on the shore of Howe Sound, but the rocks cannot be pushed into the water because of environmental concerns, officials said.

($1=$1.02 Canadian)

Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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