VANCOUVER – Communities and residents across southwestern British Columbia are tallying the damage after a powerful weekend windstorm ripped up trees, crushed vehicles and left half-a-million customers without power.
At the peak of the storm Saturday, winds gusted between 80 and 100 kilometres an hour.
More than 30,000 customers were still without power late Monday afternoon as crews from BC Hydro worked to fix damage caused by trees and branches toppled by the strong winds.
Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart said thousands of trees had been affected in his community.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve lived all my life in Coquitlam and this was the worst wind-related damage,” he said.
“I saw literally hundreds of trees that had damaged transmission lines and overhead electrical wires. It’s been a real challenge for hydro to get to all of these locations so they can get the system up and running again.”
Calls to 911 were up “enormously” in Coquitlam Saturday, Stewart said — though not all of the calls were emergencies.
“I’m surprised by the number of people who think ‘My fence fell over in the wind’ is a 911 call,” he said.
City of Vancouver staff had prepared for a torrential downpour and had to switch tactics quickly when wind became the bigger issue Saturday.
“Extreme weather is the new normal and every emergency like this is a test,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters Monday.
Vancouver’s 311 help line received 1,800 storm-related calls over the weekend, including 675 about trees.
“It’s hundreds of trees that have gone down,” Robertson said. “Lots of carnage out there for the urban forest.”
Fred Armstrong, spokesman for the City of Maple Ridge, said everyone loves a beautiful, green neighbourhood, but that can cause problems.
“Those trees are close to power lines. That was the main thing, the trees were taking out the power infrastructure.”
Armstrong said staff were working with an arborist because some trees were split by the storm, leaving branches hanging and others are leaning on houses or power lines, and the clean up could take weeks.
Uprooted trees littered roads and crushed vehicles, and drivers immediately began filing claims with the Insurance Corp. of B.C.
ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman said they have received more than 4,000 calls and online claims over the weekend, and noted that damage from fallen trees is typically covered under ICBC’s comprehensive coverage plan.
The wild wind also destroyed tents set up for the Surrey Night Market, which cancelled the rest of the season due to the extensive damage.
Acting Surrey Mayor Bruce Hayne said this had been the most damaging windstorm in the city’s memory.
While it will take a couple of weeks to clean up all of the debris, Hayne said dangerous trees will be removed and public areas will be cleared in the next 24-to-48 hours.
The storm also knocked out cell service in some areas, including Jack Froese’s home.
Unable to make calls from his house, the mayor of the Township of Langley drove around looking for service.
Froese said the storm should be a wake-up call, reminding residents that they need to be prepared, and rely less on technology in emergencies.
“A website goes down or cellphones don’t work, we’re kind of lost,” he said. “I think we have to really recognize that in a serious event, communications are important, but we’re relying a lot on this technology that doesn’t always work in these sorts of situations.”