B.C. mudslides stir up harrowing memories for Prairie couple who survived one

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B.C. mudslides stir up harrowing memories for Prairie couple who survived one

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The massive mudslides that cut across highways in southern B.C. brought back painful memories for a couple in Saskatchewan this week.

“It’s just heartwrenching,” said Sheri Niemegeers, who lives in Weyburn. “It does bring back a lot of emotions and the anxiety.”

After torrential rains, dozens of landslides hit major roads in the province earlier this week, sending cars down hills and into swamps and stranding hundreds of motorists. One woman was confirmed dead after a mudslide hit Highway 99 near Lillooet on Monday. On Friday, the bodies of three more men were recovered from the same site and officials say one person connected to that mudslide is still missing.

Others, like Chelsey Hughes, survived. Hughes was on Highway 7 between Hope and Agassiz when a mudslide pushed her car into a swamp on Sunday. She told As It Happens that she waited on the roof of her car in the rain for hours until help arrived.

“We can relate so much and we feel so bad for all those people that are affected by all this,” Niemegeers told The Doc Project.

Neimegeers says she was struck by how the mudslide Hughes survived was “almost identical” to what she lived through.

Sheri Niemegeers and Gabe Rosescu’s car after it was recovered from the 2018 mudslide. (Submitted by Sheri Niemegeers and Gabe Rosescu)

Three years ago, Niemegeers and her boyfriend, Gabe Rosescu, were taking a road trip for the May long weekend, making their way to Nelson to visit friends, when their car was hit by a wall of mud and trees.

“What we didn’t see coming was that tree standing upright, moving across the highway,” said Rosescu. “We couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of what was happening.”

It happened so fast, Rosescu didn’t have time to brake.

“I was going a hundred [kilometres per hour] on cruise control and just instantly hit it,” he said.

The mudslide pushed them off a cliff and into the valley below, crushing their car on the way down. 

The strip of B.C. highway where Sheri Niemegeers and Gabe Rosescu were driving when they got caught in a 2018 mudslide. ( Submitted by Sheri Niemegeers)

 

They were both badly injured. Niemegeers’s sternum was broken and her right foot was pointing in the wrong direction. She remembers the smell of mud and the sound of Rosescu moaning.

“I woke up to him, slumped over the steering wheel,” said Niemegeers. “And I asked, I’m like, ‘Babes, are you OK?’ And when he lifted his head up, the left side of his head was open and hanging on his face, and it was like, ‘Oh my God, we need to get out of here.'”

The couple managed to crawl out of the car and began calling for help.

Niemegeers has Addison’s disease, a gland disorder, which means her body doesn’t produce enough adrenaline. She carries an emergency kit with steroids and she managed to locate it in the badly damaged car and give herself an injection.

“She doesn’t give it as much credit as I do,” said Rosescu. “You’re having to pull out a vial of steroids, liquid steroids with a needle and then try to inject that little piece of needle into the rubber piece that goes in and withdraw the liquid. Meanwhile, looking over at your boyfriend whose half [of] his head’s hanging and he’s bleeding profusely.”

The couple was rescued by four men including off-duty firefighter Marty Bowes, and Dan Anderson, who was recording a video of the mudslide with his phone when he heard the couple’s cries for help. Anderson put his phone in his pocket and ended up recording some of the rescue.

Gabe Rosescu suffered a broken orbital bone and vision loss from the mudslide, while Sheri Niemegeers suffered a broken sternum and broken foot, resulting in a disability and lasting pain. (Submitted by Sheri Niemegeers and Gabe Rosescu)

“You could hear us… introducing ourselves, of course, in a lot of strain and pain,” said Niemegeers. “It’s actually really gut-wrenching hearing that.”

Niemegeers was in rough shape and couldn’t walk; the men who got her out of the mudslide had to carry her through mud that, at times, was more than waist deep.

“Every time you tell the story, it just chokes me up,” said Rosescu. “These guys jumped into an active mudslide that could have killed them, but didn’t even think about that.”

After they made it back to the highway, Niemegeers and Rosescu were put in separate ambulances and taken to different hospitals. Rosescu’s orbital bone was broken and he permanently lost his vision in his left eye; Niemegeers was left with debilitating pain in her foot.

“I don’t think it ruined our spirits at all,” said Niemegeers. “I mean, of course, I get grumpy sometimes because of my foot, but then on the other hand… you always think, well, you know what? It could be a lot worse.”

Rosescu considered himself an optimistic person before the mudslide, but these days he has even more perspective.

“Little things don’t bug me anymore,” he said. “The little things are now — no pun intended — they just wash away right with the rest of the mud that was in our mudslide.”

Niemegeers has messaged survivor Chelsey Hughes to offer her support.

“We can relate so much and we feel so bad for all those people that are affected by all this,” she said.

“For me, it’s how can I help?” said Rosescu, “and what I can offer is just my thoughts and what we went through and how we got through it.”


The documentary “Surviving a Mudslide” was produced by Kristin Nelson. It was edited by Acey Rowe.
 

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