12/19/2012 11:21 EST | Updated 05/20/2013 05:10 EDT

Port Mann Bridge Closed: Falling Ice Damages Vehicles

B.C. Government

UPDATE - Dec. 20, 2012: TI Corp., the company that runs the bridge, says it will cover the deductible for vehicles damaged by falling ice.

VANCOUVER - The new, multi-billion-dollar Port Mann Bridge appears to have failed its first storm test.

The B.C. bridge — which just opened earlier this month — was closed for several hours Wednesday afternoon and engineers were called to assess its safety after chunks of ice that formed on its cables began falling onto vehicles below.

Mike Proudfoot, chief executive officer of B.C.'s Transportation Investment Corporation, said officials closed the bridge that spans the Fraser River and serves more than 100,000 motorists daily at about 2 p.m. after as many as seven vehicles were damaged.

"There were a few vehicles that were hit by the ice, and the dimensions (of the chunks) had been anywhere from very minor to a couple of feet," he said.

One motorist was injured and needed an ambulance, said RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen.

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Photo gallery Vancouver Snowstorm (December 2012) See Gallery

The cable-stayed structure has two towers in the middle, anchoring cables that support the roadway, and those cables "traverse" the traffic lanes, said Proudfoot.

He said that means there is a greater chance falling snow and ice will reach motorists below.

On the nearby Alex Fraser Bridge, he added, the cables are on the outside of the bridge.

Proudfoot said the bridge was built in accordance with the Canadian Bridge Design Code and was designed to handle snow and ice accumulations, but those measures didn't work Wednesday.

In fact, he said the cables have been coated for their protection, and that coating is supposed to capture snow and ice. The snow and ice is then meant to slide down the cable and off the bridge, not onto the bridge deck, he added.

"We have instructed our contractor to review today's situation with a view to developing appropriate mitigation measures in these rare, extreme events," he said.

The storm that brought high winds and a blanket of thick, wet snow was the second to hit the B.C. coast over two days.

By early evening Wednesday, about 10,000 customers were still without power on the Lower Mainland, Sunshine coast and Vancouver Island.

The strong winds which blew in during the morning commute also caused ferry cancellations and school closures.

When the snow stopped Wednesday, the City of Vancouver said it was moving out 25 trucks and 40 crew members to plow and salt the roads.

"Crews will continue to work throughout the night as heavy rainfall is expected to keep main throughways clear, including bus routes and bridges," said the city statement.

Capt. Gabe Roder, with the Vancouver Fire Department, also issued a warning saying citizens who were walking under large trees also needed to be extremely careful.

Firefighters responded to several calls Wednesday of tree limbs loaded with heavy snow falling to the ground. No injuries had been reported.