August 30, 2015 - 3:57 PM
VANCOUVER - Emergency crews were working to clean up the aftermath of a vicious windstorm that tore through southwestern British Columbia on Saturday, bringing trees and branches crashing down onto power lines and cars and leaving an estimated 500,000 people without power.
BC Hydro said it could take until Monday morning to restore power to some areas.
Eighty-kilometre-an-hour winds buffeted the Lower Mainland, at one point toppling a tree onto a woman in her 40s who was walking with her daughter in Surrey. The RCMP described the woman's injuries as life-threatening.
The bulk of the outages occurred in the Greater Vancouver Area, and BC Hydro said that as of 10 a.m. Sunday about 180,000 customers were still waiting for the power to be restored.
The area's 911 line was overwhelmed with inquiries about power outages, prompting officials to ask residents to call only in the event of an urgent emergency.
Metro Vancouver Regional District's emergency program co-ordinator Rod Tulett said the district's emergency procedures performed extremely well so far. He described Saturday's gales as the backup system's biggest test since the district was caught off-guard by a windstorm in 2006 that battered the Lower Mainland and uprooted numerous trees in Vancouver's Stanley Park.
"After the big windstorm a lot of our facilities received significant upgrades in their backup-power capability," said Tulett. "We learned from that."
The City of Vancouver reported receiving more than a thousand weather-related calls regarding debris, damage and flooding.
"The impacts of #BCStorm2015 include downed trees and power lines, flooding, property damage and widespread loss of power to city facilities and traffic lights at major intersections," said a city news release.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo also suffered extensive damage in the storm, reported the facility's general manager Jody Henderson. Powerful winds caused a number of major fences to come down, most notably the barricade surrounding the grizzly bear enclosure.
"We followed our normal emergency protocol. ... Everyone was contained into a building," said Henderson. "At no time did our grizzly bear get out."
BC Hydro estimated it could be as late as 12:30 a.m. on Monday before power would be restored to a number of municipalities across the region.
Residents took to social media with a mix of both praise and condemnation for the utility and its response to the outages, with much of the vitriol directed toward BC Hydro's website only working sporadically.
Strong winds also swept through Rock Creek in the southern interior, where a 44-square-kilometre wildfire destroyed 30 homes earlier this month.
The storm triggered wind warnings from Environment Canada, forced the temporary closure of Stanley Park, and slowed ferry service between Victoria and the mainland.
The cost of the extensive property damage and the bill for cleaning up the huge mess have yet to be tallied.
BC Hydro said in a release that crews are addressing public safety issues first and "aim to get power back for highest density areas in order to get as many customers back as possible."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015