More than 23,000 people on Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands could be spending their Christmas without power, as BC Hydro crews work to fix lines damaged in a storm Dec. 20.
Crews have restored power to more than 600,000 customers around the south coast and Vancouver Island since the storm hit on Thursday, but “hundreds” of outages remain, according to a BC Hydro spokesperson.
There are still residents around Sproat Lake and especially Bamfield, Anacla and Dididaht who have been without power for more than four days already. There are also people in Central Lake area who were also without power.
BC Hydro crews from the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley were on the first ferries Monday morning to Vancouver Island to help repair remaining damage.
One person who lives on Klitsa Drive at Sproat Lake who did not want to be identified said they have been without power for more than 100 hours. A family member drove from Victoria to Port Alberni looking in numerous stores for a generator, but was told they are all sold out.
Hope came briefly to people on Klitsa Drive on Sunday when hydro crews placed a new hydro pole, but they left before they were able to fix the lines.
“That has been the hardest day, celebrating, anticipating the idea of having heat, water, lights, and a hot meal then watching them drive away in the dark,” they said. “I’m very grateful, and I know people have it way worse in this world than us…I am extremely appreciative for all the linemen that are working so hard.”
Crystal Amos said she is worried for members of her Dididaht First Nation community, who are isolated and without power. Dididaht is located down a logging road by Nitinaht Lake, southwest of Port Alberni.
“They called a state of emergency,” she said. Some people have been put up in hotels in Port Alberni, but a holiday hockey tournament means many hotel rooms were already booked. Others chose to stay in Dididaht to keep their generators running so they don’t lose their food in fridges and freezers, like some already have, but people are beginning to run out of fuel.
Amos donated some gas in jerry cans, and said others gave cash donations to purchase gas which was transported to the First Nation by a chief and council member.
“The chief and council is looking into getting more gas. The community services is working on feeding the people warm food,” she said. “Thanks to those who donated some gas funds and jerry cans.”
“I was born and raised here in Port. Nine years ago I found employment in Dididaht where I have roots, and when I endured our first outage and being flooded in there for four days with lost food, that was a struggle,” she said.
There are some services available to assist people impacted by the storm.
Echo Pool is open for people wanting to use the showers or spend time warming up at Echo Centre. They can recharge appliances and access wifi, City of Port Alberni CAO Tim Pley said.
“We often have people using the facilities for this purpose when their living circumstances dictate the need,” he added.
Ordinarily there is a $3 charge to use the showers, but Pley said during this weather event “staff at the pool have been directed to not charge people who are impacted by the weather.”
The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District has not had many requests for assistance despite many homeowners in the Sproat Lake area being without power for up to four days and more.
“We have had one request for assistance from individuals living at Sproat Lake,” said Kelly Gilday, the emergency coordinator for the ACRD. ” I have offered the use of a warming centre and they will connect back if needed.”
The Salvation Army has helped people affected by the storm, Capt. Michael Ramsay said.
“Anybody we’ve been made aware of, we’ve been able to help with groceries and things like that,” he said.
“We’ve got food supplies and we’ll help out anyway we can. If they’re in dire straits they can call the Salvation Army and we will do what we can do,” Ramsay said.
Anyone needing food or assistance can contact the Salvation Army at 250-723-6913. The facility will not be open on Christmas Day.
BC Hydro has sent extra crews to Port Alberni to work on the Bamfield, Nitinaht and Central Lake lines, but spokesperson Ted Olynyk said those communities won’t have power back by Christmas Day.
There are several people working in the Port Alberni hydro office, two local crews and five out-of-town crews—about 30 people in total—who will be working throughout the Christmas holiday to repair those lines.
“Dididaht, Nitinaht, Bamfield, it’s pretty serious damage in those areas,” Olynyk said. “We’re getting crews on it.”
He said there are a few things people who don’t have power can do to assist hydro crews, such as leaving a porch light switched on so they can easily see that power has been restored to a particular home or area. Unplug heavy-drawing appliances so when power is restored, there isn’t a big surge on the line right away.
Olynyk recommends waiting 15 minutes before turning on appliances or too many lights once power is restored. “Give it time to stabilize or we’ll have such a draw on the system it will go out again and we will have to go back out.”
He also said people who see trees over power lines should leave the trees alone—don’t try to remove them and buck them up yourself. “A line could be re-energized or we could be trying to re-energize the system,” he said.
Some generators, if they aren’t wired correctly, can unintentionally re-energize power lines as well.
BC Hydro outages can be tracked online at bchydro.com/outages.