NEWS

B.C. Windstorm: Power Outages, Ferry Cancellations Plague Thousands

03/12/2012 03:30 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT
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VANCOUVER - A powerful wind storm lashed coastal British Columbia on Monday, leaving more than 100,000 power customers without service, cancelling ferry sailings and keeping thousands of students home from school.

Environment Canada issued weather warnings for Vancouver Island, the Vancouver region and the Sunshine Coast, and those warnings proved accurate.

The weather agency recorded wind gusts of 100 kilometres per hour in some regions early Monday morning, topping out at more than 130 kilometres per hour on northern Vancouver Island.

By mid-morning, toppled trees and power lines left about 110,000 customers without power, with nearly 90,000 of those on Vancouver Island. Those numbers began to fall by early afternoon, as the winds died down and crews repaired damaged lines, but BC Hydro said some customers on smaller islands could be in the dark until Tuesday.

BC Ferries cancelled sailings on most major routes to and from Vancouver Island because of the winds and rough seas. Service to those routes were gradually restored as the day progressed.

At least two debris-covered highways were closed for part of the day on Vancouver Island near Campbell River.

In Vancouver, the city's Stanley Park was shut down briefly because of the high wind and falling tree debris — the first time weather forced the park to close since 2006.

And the power outages and ferry cancellations prompted school closures throughout Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

David Jones of Environment Canada said the storm was particularly strong compared with other March wind storms in B.C., with several characteristics that made it especially destructive.

"The most dangerous or damaging storms are low-pressure systems that are explosively deepening as they move on shore that cross the southern part of the B.C. coast," said Jones.

"So this one is explosively deepening, moving across Vancouver Island. Everywhere to the south of that low has been hit hard with very strong winds."

BC Hydro crews were working to restore power, though David Lebeter, the Crown corporation's vice president of operations, said some customers could spend the night in the dark.

"This is the largest storm of this season," Lebeter said in an interview.

"It is looking like it will be possible that some of the smaller remote islands off Vancouver Island will be without power until tomorrow, if for no other reason than ferries aren't sailing and we won't be able to get crews there."

Lebeter said BC Hydro was expecting the wind storm and had crews on standby to deal with any outages. He said those crews were dispatched immediately when reports of damage came in, but they were forced to stand down briefly as conditions became too dangerous.

"This is the largest storm of this season," said Lebeter.

Several school districts had announced closures on Monday, mostly on Vancouver Island.

The local school district in the Comox Valley area on Vancouver Island had closed all of its 23 schools, keeping nearly 10,000 students out of class.

School District No. 72, in the Campbell River area, also closed all of its schools. The district has 22 schools and more than 5,400 students.

Other areas hit by school closures include Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Saanich area north of Victoria and the Sunshine Coast.

In Stanley Park, a large swath of forest on the northwestern tip of Downtown Vancouver, the storm knocked down about 15 trees, said Brian Quinn of the city's park board, but there were no reported injuries.

The park was closed for about an hour and a half, but officials hoped to have most of the damage cleaned up by the end of day Tuesday, said Quinn.

"We don't actually close it until we feel that there's enough large material coming down that could cause harm to people, but we do monitor it," he told reporters at a news conference inside the park, once the winds had largely subsided.

Quinn said the last time the park was closed due to weather was during a severe windstorm in 2006 when 41 hectares of forest was blown down and the park's famous seawall was damaged.