Nakusp woman recalls harrowing escape from flash flood

·4 min read

It’s been nearly a month, but Deb Booth still shudders when she recalls what happened to her on Valentine’s Day.

“I think it’s affected us, permanently,” she says. “Even talking about it, I get stressed out. And I’m not that kind of person. I’m pretty low-key.”

It all started when her husband Ken noticed how the February cold snap had completely frozen over Kuskanax Creek, a rare event. The creek runs along the border of their Nakusp property. Booth, a photographer, got excited.

“The colour was stunning… when you’re standing there, looking down through the trees, the colour just popped,” she recalled. “Ken said ‘you have go down and take some pictures.’”

Taking advantage of the sunny day, the pair went down to the creek and began wandering, taking pictures and exploring the shoreline. It was a lot of fun, even when Booth momentarily got her boot stuck in between some of the rocks in the creek bed.

“My foot went through between these rocks,” she says. “The water was up over my ankles, and I thought, ‘great, now I’m going to have a wet foot.’

“I managed to wiggle my boot out, and went up the bank to warm my foot by the fire Ken had built. Otherwise I would have been down there for quite a while longer to take more photos.”

The Booths have lived on the property for decades, and thought they knew the Kuskanax well. She says she had never experienced what happened next.

“There was no noise. It was silence. There was no wind,” she recalled. “So when we began hearing this sound, it got our attention.”

The sound kept growing.

“We turned around just in time, to see a 12-foot wall of ice and water that was bright turquoise coming towards us,” she says. “It takes a second for your brain to register what is going on. Then it started slamming into the bank and hunks of ice were coming up over, and Ken yelled ‘Run!’”

Her husband held on to a nearby tree, while Deb ran as far from the bank as she could.

“I had to go down the bank and up again, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it.’”

The rising water came within 20 feet of her, she says, but it was over in a matter of seconds. The ice and water receded almost as quickly as it began, leaving them unscathed. After recovering their composure, the couple went back down to the creekside to take pictures of the aftermath – and Booth saw how close she had come to disaster.

“I was pretty much right out in the middle of the river when I got stuck, and never thought twice about it,” she says. “Ken would have come down to try to help free me. We would never have made it out of the way in time, it happened so fast.”

Booth even knows how close she came to disaster. Her digital camera recorded 13 minutes between the last picture she took before getting stuck in the creek, and the next picture she took as the water receded.

The next day her husband went down to the creek again, and saw evidence of the power of the flash flood.

“There were chunks of ice where we had been standing – they were eight inches thick and five feet across,” she says. “They would have easily swept us away.”

River experts approached by the Valley Voice couldn’t explain what happened to the Booths. They say a small ice jam or beaver dam upstream from their location might have broken, sending the cascade of water toward the couple. They say it’s an unusual event that more commonly happens during freshet, and not mid-winter.

Booth posted her experience to a local Facebook group, saying she hopes people will take what happened to her as a warning, and stay aware when they’re walking in and around mountain streams.

“My message is use caution,” she says. “I wouldn’t go near a frozen river again, unless it’s really, really tiny and you have a chance to escape.”

And the couple even managed to find a bit of humour in the experience.

“Ken told me he used to make my heart race on Valentine’s day, but in a different way,” she laughs.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice