Electrical system repairs slowed by numerous blocked roads

Up to 40,000 B.C. Hydro customers on Vancouver Island still are without power Sunday afternoon but it looks as if the worst is over after the most intense storm to hit the region in two decades.

The utility says that customers in some of the hardest-hit areas may still have to wait several more days before the power is restored.

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“Crews are facing multiple fallen trees and downed lines,” said Ted Olynyk, B.C. Hydro spokesperson. “Many long-time Hydro employees have never seen such a storm.”

The worst hit areas have been Duncan, Nanaimo, Lake Cowichan and the southern Gulf Islands, which report trees and branches on nearly all the roads, with some impassable.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is helping to clear the roads.

B.C. Hydro crews have been on the job around the clock since the storm hit, with more than 800 field personnel working to repair 1,100 spans of wire, 300 power poles, 550 cross-arms and 170 transformers that were destroyed in Thursday’s storm.

Additional crews are on their way to Vancouver Island from the rest of the province and elsewhere in western Canada. “This is the first time we have had to request help from out of B.C.,” said Olynyk.

B.C. Ferries had a travel advisory but it has been cancelled. There are no delays reported on major routes.

Environment Canada rescinded a wind warning for the coast Sunday morning.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said emergency operations centres have been activated in affected areas and warming centres have been opened in many communities.

"I would ask all British Columbians in affected areas to ensure that they have supplies and plans in place to remain safe during this incident, and to please check in on neighbours, particularly those in a vulnerable situation," Farnworth said in a statement.

Farnworth reminded members of the public to stay at least 10 metres away from downed power lines, which should be considered live. It's also important to use generators safely and never use portable generators, outdoor barbecues or camp stoves indoors, he said.

"I know that an extended power outage during the holiday season presents particular challenges for many. I want to ensure British Columbians that our government will continue to support BC Hydro as it works to safely restore power as quickly as possible," Farnworth said.

RCMP said in Duncan a woman died when a tree fell on her tent during the storm.

The storm also led to equipment damage at Nanaimo's water treatment plant and residents were asked to limit water use for a couple of days. The plant returned to full capacity late Saturday afternoon and the city lifted water-use restrictions. A control device at the plant malfunctioned because of the power outage and it was replaced, the city said in a statement. "Thursday's storm led to a series of unexpected events ultimately leading to the malfunction,” said Bill Sims, director of engineering and public works. ‘We are happy to report the water treatment plant is up and running at full capacity. We are overwhelmed by the community's efforts and messages of support for our staff. Thank you for your patience, cooperation and understanding."

Chris O'Riley, president and chief operations officer for BC Hydro, said Sunday the utility is hopeful that power will be restored to affected customers on the Lower Mainland by the end of the day on Monday. But Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands will take more time, especially as crews deal with more remote, individual outages.

"Based on reports that are coming back from our field crews and the images you're sharing with us, we know that a number of communities are facing significant damage. We know how difficult prolonged outages can be," O'Riley said in a video statement.

On Sunday, 81 line crews were tackling Vancouver Island, many of whom travelled from other parts of the province to help out, he said.

"On behalf of B.C. Hydro, we appreciate your continued support and your continued patience," O'Riley said.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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