August 29, 2015 - 5:30 PM
VANCOUVER - A powerful windstorm caused chaos in southwestern British Columbia on Saturday, knocking out power to 330,000 homes and felling trees that crushed cars and critically injured a woman.
Winds gusting up to 90 kilometres per hour forced the closure of Vancouver's jewel, Stanley Park, although the east side of the park re-opened Saturday afternoon.
The annual Pacific National Exhibition initially said it would close but later announced it would stay open after Environment Canada cancelled a wind warning.
At least two police forces were urging residents to stay home. Surrey RCMP said multiple trees fell down, crashing into cars and striking a pedestrian.
"There have been also been several near misses between trees and members of the public," said Sgt. Bill Parmar. "The current storm is making it very dangerous for the public and the first responders."
He said a woman was walking with her daughter when she saw trees falling. She was trying to warn other pedestrians and drivers when a tree fell on her.
RCMP said her daughter jumped out of the way, but the woman in her 40s was rushed to hospital with life-threateing injuries. Mounties were trying to identify her and find next of kin.
Abbotsford Police also issued a warning urging residents to stay indoors. Metro Vancouver's transit authority, TransLink, asked riders to avoid using the system if possible.
Most of the homes affected by power outages were in the Lower Mainland, including in Surrey, Richmond, Abbotsford and the western Fraser Valley, according to BC Hydro.
Spokeswoman Simi Heer said the utility has launched its storm response plan, bringing together decision-makers into one room in Surrey to ensure efficient deployment of crews and resources.
Heer said the outages are due to trees and branches falling on power lines and crews are working hard to repair damage, but customers should be patient.
"Crews might simply have to remove a branch from a line, or they have to go in and repair the line or repair the pole," she said. "Windstorms are challenging because the degree of damage is quite varied."
Environment Canada issued wind warnings on Saturday for Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria, the Southern Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast.
The agency said a significant storm would affect the south coast on Saturday, with 40 to 80 millimetres of rain forecast for Howe Sound, the North Shore and northwestern Fraser Valley.
Winds blowing up to 70 kilometres per hour were forecast for Rock Creek, where a 44-square kilometre wildfire has been raging for weeks.
"As there has been no rain to dampen the old fire ash, residents are advised there may be flying ash, and weakened trees in the fire area may fall," the B.C. Wildfire Service warned on its website.
"As well, debris from damaged or destroyed homes may become susceptible to the strong winds and move about."
The wildfire, which has now been 75 per cent contained, destroyed 30 homes in the community in B.C.'s Kootenay Boundary region earlier this month.
The provincial government issued an 80 kilometre per hour speed limit from Westbridge to Rock Creek, warning drivers to watch for debris and dusts from gusting winds.
Highway 19A between Parksville and Campbell River was closed in both directions one kilometre north of Cook Creek Road because of downed lines.
Ferries running from Victoria to Vancouver were running about 45 minutes late due to weather, according to B.C. Ferries.
There were also temporary service delays on the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines after a tree fell on the tracks near Royal Oak Station.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015