Metro Vancouver's new Port Mann bridge has reopened after falling ice from the bridge's huge cables sent one man to hospital, slightly injured another person and damaged vehicles in the midst of a severe snowstorm that hit B.C.'s South Coast.
At least one person was injured and dozens of cars were damaged by ice falling from the suspension cables supporting the 11-lane wide span across the Fraser River east of Vancouver, forcing the RCMP to close the bridge around 1:30 p.m. PT.
"The closure was necessary because falling ice from the bridge injured a motorist, who required ambulance attendants, and damaged vehicles," said RCMP Sgt Peter Thiessen.
"The bridge was closed for safety reasons, and will be reopened as soon as the weather situation improves."
Officials are hoping to have the Port Mann bridge reopened between 4 p.m. PT and 6 p.m., but drivers asked to find an alternate route or not drive at all if they don't need to.
Mike Proudfoot, the CEO of the Transportion Investment Corporation, which built the bridge for the province, said it was built to Canadian weather standards and the falling ice was the result of extreme weather conditions.
But NDP transportation critic Harry Bains says the falling ice raises serious questions about the design of the bridge.
"This is the first real test under this kind of weather with a $3.4-billion cost to build this bridge. Did they actually anticipate this kind of weather with this kind of cable design that we see?"
Chaos for travellers and commuters
The closure comes after snow and winter weather hit the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island for the second day in a row Wednesday, creating chaos on the roads, wreaking havoc on ferry service and public transit and leaving thousands without power.
Many streets around Metro Vancouver were closed because of falling trees and downed power lines, and drivers have been advised to stay off the roads unless necessary.
Some the worst driving conditions are being reported on hills that have been made slippery by rain falling on the snow, and on bridges which have been jammed with traffic.
And with the snow turning to rain late in the afternoon, municipal crews were working to clear slush from around clogged storm drains to prevent flooding in many areas.
In the Interior of the province, emergency crews have confirmed one person was killed after a car skidded off the icy Highway 97 and into Wood Lake between Kelowna and Vernon.
Power outages continue
About 10,000 BC Hydro customers in Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were without power as of 4:30 p.m. PT, including large outages in Delta, Richmond, UBC and Sechelt.
Another 11,000 customers on north and central Vancouver Island also lost power on Wednesday — including Qualicum Beach, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Comox, Courtenay, Cumberland, Nanaimo, Port Hardy and Port Alberni.
Firefighters in Vancouver are warning people to be extremely cautious when walking underneath large trees.
"Firefighters have responded to a number of calls today where limbs have broken off and fallen to the ground," said a statement by the Vancouver Fire Department.
Ferries resume sailing
The weather has caused problems for travellers all day across the Lower Mainland and much of the South Coast of B.C.
High winds forced BC Ferries to cancel the majority of trips to and from Vancouver Island on Wednesday, but as of 4:30 most of the routes had resumed operating. Passengers are advised to expect line-ups and delays on many routes.
The weather also caused problems for public transit routes in the region and commuters are advised to expect detours and delays to dress for cold weather.
Because of the slippery conditions, particularly on hills, many bus routes were suspended or severely delayed, TransLink was reporting.
HandyDart has been cut back to essential service in New Westminster, Burnaby, the Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Richmond.
SkyTrain services were operating normally, TransLink reported at noon.
Many flights in and out of Vancouver International Airport have been delayed and some were cancelled on Wednesday. Passengers are advised to check the airport's website for updates.
Classes and exams cancelled for the day.
UBC cancelled final exams scheduled for the rest of the week at its main campus. Exams that are cancelled on the main campus will be rescheduled in January. Students in UBC's faculty of medicine and at the Robson Square campus are asked to check the website or call the campus for exam information.
All of Vancouver's emergency cold weather shelters are also at full capacity with 160 beds occupied, city officials reported. All four of the emergency shelters are low barrier, meaning they allow residents to bring pets and shopping carts inside.
Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were under snowfall advisories, with more than 20 centimetres of snow expected to fall in some areas by Thursday.
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