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Police in Canada have launched an investigation after vandals cut the high-tension cable on a mountain gondola lift, sending dozens of cabins crashing to the mountainside.

Nobody was injured in the attack on the Sea to Sky gondola, near the town of Squamish, British Columbia, but the incident marked the second time that the cable had been severed in two years, and left locals fearing for the future of a popular tourist attraction.

Heavy smoke from wildfires in the United States has prevented crews from making a full assessment of the damages – but the cable car’s operator anticipates it will be in the millions of dollars.

“This is a deliberate cut, this was not an accident,” Sgt Sascha Banks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told reporters.

Officials believe the 2km steel cable was cut at about 4am on Monday, causing some of the cabins to drop from as high as 300m.

The incident was captured on film by security cameras installed after last year’s sabotage, but police have not yet identified a motive – or determined if the same person was responsible for both attacks.

But the speed and ease with which the culprit severed the cable has troubled officials.

“This individual has no regard for their own life and limb. They wanted to do what they did, they did it swiftly, they did it with skill,” said Banks.

The popular attraction, which opened to the public in 2014, ferries nearly 400,000 tourists each year over steep granite cliffs of Stawamus Chief provincial park, for panoramic views of Howe Sound.

Squamish’s mayor, Karen Elliott, said the twin crises of vandalism and the coronavirus are likely to hurt the town’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism.

“The gondola is a draw for other tourism operators in the valley. A pause in operations there does have impacts through the community,” she told a local radio station.

Although the gondola is popular among tourists, the project faced stiff opposition when it was initially proposed less than 10 years ago.

Some residents were concerned that transforming the park would lead to a surge in tourists and negatively affect biodiversity in the region.

The company says it is eager to reopen once the necessary parts have arrived.

“These are unique and incredibly rare events, so to have it happen twice speaks more to the motivation of the person who wants to bring this team, this company and this community to its knees – and that’s not going to happen,” general manager Kirby Brown told the Squamish Chief, a local newspaper. “We will get new cabins. We will rebuild.”