Thousands of Peninsula residents spent the weekend without power after a freak windstorm wreaked havoc on the Lower Mainland Saturday.
According to BC Hydro – which asked for patience in the wake of “one of the biggest single-day storm events we have ever experienced” – nearly half a million customers were affected, with thousands of customers around Metro Vancouver still in the dark as of Peace Arch News press time Tuesday morning.
While many in South Surrey had their power back by noon Sunday, others were not so fortunate – with some describing their neighbourhoods as seemingly “forgotten” by BC Hydro, as power lines remained strewn across some roads nearly 72 hours after the storm hit.
“There’s nothing happening (in) our area. We actually haven’t seen a single BC Hydro truck,” Sheila Keating, a 19-year resident of the Elgin area, told PAN Monday morning.
“I think they’ve forgotten about us.”
While Keating’s power was restored around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, she remained frustrated both by the delay and by the lack of reliable information regarding when power would return. She noted her husband has sleep apnea – a medical condition that is regulated by machine overnight – and they would have made other arrangements had they realized how long the power would be out.
According to BC Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer, priority goes to safety calls where potentially live wires are down across roads and near homes, as well as restoring circuits to critical services like hospitals and pumping stations. Then, it shifts to where crews can get the “biggest bang for our buck” – quickly restoring service to 5,000 homes on one circuit as opposed to 50 on another.
Heer apologized for the “unacceptable” failure of the utility’s website for much of the weekend, which prevented customers from accessing details of outages and estimates for power restoration.
She noted the last storm of this magnitude was in 2006. This one was unique because so many customers were affected in one day.
South Surrey’s Jennifer Shackleford was also frustrated by BC Hydro’s apparent lack of attention.
“We feel we’re on their pay-no-mind list,” Shackleford said, adding she was still awaiting word Monday afternoon on when it would be safe for her family to venture into their yard – let alone when power would be restored.
Half of the old-growth maple tree in front of their home on 20 Avenue, near 168 Street, sheared off the trunk and hit power lines around noon on Saturday.
The impact pulled wiring from the house and “pulled out the Hydro box,” she said, and Hydro representatives told her husband, David, that some of the broken wires in the yard were likely still live shortly after the collapse.
“We were told we shouldn’t go into the yard, but they haven’t come out to ‘caution tape’ off the area. Right now, we feel it’s still too dangerous to let the dogs out. We’re hoping it will get rectified quickly, or we’ll be looking into what our rights are, as tenants.
“We feel like we’ve been left in the dark – literally.”
Ashton Parwana, a homeowner in the 2200-block of 154 Street, expressed a similar sentiment Monday, as he waited for crews to deal with a power line that continued to span his road 48 hours after large branches brought it down. He was busy moving his neighbours’ garbage bins out of the danger zone, so that those crews could effect pickup.
“It’s a mess,” Parwana said, noting the issue for his block could have been avoided.
Duane Cole, who lives north of Sunnyside Park, told PAN Monday afternoon that the blocks surrounding his home had electricity, but he had yet to see Hydro crews working to restore power to his home.
“They seem to have forgotten parts of South Surrey,” he said. “You can’t get any information online – that’s probably the most frustrating.”
Cole’s parents, who are visiting from Mississippi, arrived Saturday afternoon to discover the storm’s damage. Having survived Hurricane Katrina, the Coles were reminded of the devastation they experienced on the Gulf Coast 10 years ago to the day.
“There’s no way you can describe it unless you’ve been down there,” Sandra Cole recalled. “We were pretty fortunate – just our roof was caved in.”
After being evacuated, then living without power and water for three weeks, this weekend’s storm served as a reminder to be thankful for what they have.
“It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but you have to look at the big picture,” Sandra said. “It could be a lot worse.”
Tuesday morning, BC Hydro was reporting that fewer than 10,000 customers remained without power, and “crews are working around the clock to repair damage caused by the storm.”
The storm saw winds of up to 90 km/h deliver powerful gusts that sent trees down across roadways and power lines, onto homes and vehicles, and scattered branches and debris everywhere.
After a woman in her 40s suffered life-threatening injuries when was struck by a falling tree around 12:30 p.m. Saturday in North Surrey, Surrey RCMP urged residents to stay home and “only travel if necessary.”
Pedestrians on White Rock’s Marine Drive were lucky to avoid injury when a street light toppled in the 14800-block of the waterfront thoroughfare, prompting one resident to question the condition of remaining posts.
Deputy fire Chief Ed Wolfe said the seaside city actually “fared fairly well” compared to others.
While firefighters were busier than usual – responding to 22 incidents compared to the typical day’s five – and additional crew members were called in to help, there were no storm-related injuries reported. Crews responded to “several” reports of people trapped in elevators, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said the biggest issue he was alerted to in White Rock was a power pole across Victoria Avenue. He noted it was discovered by firefighters en route to another call, and resulted in the street’s closure in both directions.
“That’s the kind of day it was,” he said. “There was so many things going on.”
Officials in some communities were predicting the cleanup could take weeks.
– Melissa Smalley, Tracy Holmes, Alex Browne & Jeff Nagel