A helping hand after the storm: clearing trees, making soup on Salt Spring

Celina Tarantino, the manager at Salt Spring Island’s Local Bar, woke up early on Christmas morning to cook a big batch of turkey soup, a welcome bit of comfort food for those without power who would have otherwise had to settle for a cold ham sandwich.

Hundreds of B.C. Hydro workers scattered across Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, worked overtime to restore power to the estimated 9,700 customers who remained in the dark Christmas evening.

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Scott Nyuli, who runs Prairie Pro tree service on Salt Spring, spent his sixth day in a row removing the trees that pierced homes, blocked vehicles and downed power lines.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s storm, the worst in two decades, many people gave up their Christmas to restore normality to those forced to rely on wood stoves, generators and the kindness of strangers.

Tarantino, 25, could have been at her parents’ house Tuesday morning, celebrating her little sister’s first Christmas, but instead she chose to open the doors of the Ganges-area pub from noon to 4 p.m. so people could savour a cup of hot turkey soup. As the pub is typically closed Christmas Day, she told her staff to enjoy their day off and that she would dish out the soup, which she made Tuesday morning at the Oystercatcher restaurant.

Power had been restored to the pub and restaurant.

But much of Salt Spring still didn’t have power, “so I figured there should be at least one spot where people could go for a warm meal,” she said. The sound of Christmas music floated around her and all the televisions were set to the fireplace channel.

“Everyone is very thankful and very happy,” she said, the only Christmas present she needs.

Tarantino lives on a remote property near Cusheon Lake and was told it would be days until her power is back. She’s taking it all in stride, showering at her parents’ house and “camping” at her place.

Nyuli, who has been in the tree removal business for 20 years, said he can’t remember a storm this devastating on Salt Spring.

“I’ve seen a hurricane hit Halifax [in 2003] and this was very comparable,” Nyuli said. “You go to one call and then once you’re there, three other people come out and ask you if you can go help them and it just snowballs and the next thing you know, it’s dark.”

Nyuli and four others had a near-death experience as they were trying to remove a tree Thursday.

“The wind picked up and about six or eight trees went over at once all toward us. Guys were scrambling for life.”

He said the priority has been freeing cars from driveways so that people without power could seek warm meals and showers offered by friends and strangers.

Social media have become a lifeline, where people lucky enough to have power have offered to bring hot meals to their less-fortunate island neighbours.

Nyuli’s power just came back on Monday night. He said he has had lots of Christmas dinner invites as a thanks for his hard work.

The storm badly damaged the B.C. Ferries dock that connects Penelakut Island, a First Nations community of about 300 people, to Chemainus. B.C. Ferries staff are working around the clock to repair the dock, said spokeswoman Astrid Braunschmidt, who estimated it should be fixed by early January. The corporation is offering a water taxi that is mirroring the ferry schedule.

On Pender Island, Adrian Hanson, assistant fire chief of the Pender Island Volunteer Fire Department, has used social media to compile a list of areas that remain without power, so he can pass that along to B.C. Hydro workers.

Hanson estimated about 85 per cent of the Island has had power restored, but for areas with more extensive damage, it could be several more days.

The two main firehalls have set up charging stations so people can charge their phones, Hanson said.

The Pender Island Community Hall served hot soup on Tuesday.

Today, there will be a free breakfast as a thank you to the hydro workers, Hanson said.

“The hydro crews have done such a good job,” Hanson said.

“I feel so bad for them, they’re all missing Christmas with their families so they can try and keep ours warm.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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