A fierce wind storm swept through southern British Columbia on the weekend, toppling trees, knocking down power lines, badly injuring one woman and leaving about 500,000 BC Hydro customers without power overnight.
Although the worst appeared over by Sunday, Environment Canada warned that heavy rains were coming over the next 48 hours, confronting Metro Vancouver with continued weather hardships as three months of unprecedented dry and hot conditions came to a crashing halt.
In a bulletin on Sunday, the City of Vancouver said crews were “working around the clock to respond to more than 1,000 weather-related calls of debris, damage and flooding after the worst storm in almost a decade blew through the region.”
The city’s emergency operations centre was activated early Saturday afternoon and remained active throughout Sunday.
“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,” the bulletin stated. “City engineering and urban forestry crews are working together on clearing 50 high-priority areas today. These are locations where trees and debris have fallen on homes and power lines.”
The storm also damaged one of the most beloved pieces of public art in Vancouver.
Wind Swimmer, an iconic mobile sculpture that has stood above Kitsilano Pool, surviving numerous gales over the past 19 years, crashed down during the height of the blow Saturday.
The extent of the damage to Wind Swimmer, which features a woman whose arms and legs pump as the wind spins a weather vane, isn’t immediately known.
Vancouver artist Doug Taylor was shocked to hear his sculpture had fallen in the storm, where winds hit 80 kilometres an hour. “Oh man, I’m sorry to hear this,” he said Sunday.
“That piece has easily withstood many storms like this. … It easily survived the storm that blew down Stanley Park.”
In December, 2006, hurricane-force winds that gusted to 120 kilometres an hour snapped or uprooted 3,000 trees in Stanley Park.
The storm Saturday wasn’t nearly as intense, but it did extensive damage nonetheless.
BC Hydro’s website was down, but the corporation turned to social media to keep people posted, saying that more than 250 power-line technicians were deployed throughout the Lower Mainland trying to restore electricity.
BC Hydro said only 180,000 customers were still without service by Sunday at 10 a.m., and the goal was to have all lines back in service by Sunday night or early Monday.
Surrey RCMP reported Saturday that one female pedestrian suffered life-threatening injuries from a falling tree, and they urged the public to remain home and travel only if necessary.
“Conditions remain hazardous with trees and power lines down, and intersection lights out in various neighbourhoods,” the police stated. “The current storm is making it very dangerous for the public and the first responders.”
Although the storm had subsided by late Saturday, social media lit up throughout the weekend, with people posting photos of downed trees on houses, cars and roads, and issuing warnings about dangerous areas where tree branches were falling.
Many public facilities, including some community centres, Stanley Park and the fair at the Pacific National Exhibition, which annually draws more than 700,000 visitors, were briefly closed because of high winds and power outages.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo was closed with news reports saying winds had blown down the fence to the grizzly bear compound, although the animal did not escape.
Erik Helssen, owner-operator of Burley Boys Tree Service in West Vancouver, said there were so many calls for help, he was forced to prioritize calls to his office Sunday.
“We’re trying to deal with the most dire situations first,” he said. “We’re going where there are trees down on houses, so we can get them on off the roofs and people can put up tarps.”
He said he’d received more than 30 calls for help, including cases where homes had been struck or cars crushed by falling trees.
Mr. Helssen said the storm was not as intense as many in the past, but it was unusually damaging because it came during the summer. Most storms, including the hurricane that devastated Stanley Park, occur in the winter, when deciduous trees have bare branches.
“This time of year, the trees are heavy with foliage and they can [catch the wind and] just topple over,” he said.