Highway 4 has reopened both east and west of Port Alberni following what some officials are calling the worst storm in the past decade on Vancouver Island.
The highway was cut off between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni on Thursday (Dec. 20) due to numerous trees having fallen across the roadway and onto power lines. One person who drove through the area Friday morning said the number of trees down on the east side of Cameron Lake and around Whiskey Creek was “unbelievable.”
Another poster, Christine Ansell, congratulated work crews. “Fabulous job, guys! Not even a twig on the highway. The carnage around the Whiskey Creek area is just devastating, though.”
The road was also cut off from Port Alberni to the west coast communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, with the same situation. For a few hours, traffic was also cut off on Pacific Rim Highway between Ucluelet and Tofino. Both communities are still without power.
The heavy rain and winds resulted in a washout of Highway 4 near Kennedy Lake on Thursday. The washout is located 13 kilometres east of the southern boundary of Pacific Rim National Park. Traffic is getting through the area, single lane and alternating.
Dyan Lover of Port Alberni was driving past the area as the road was undermined. Lover made it through, and stopped to take some video.
There were reported wind gusts of up to 111 kilometres per hour in Tofino, and gusts reaching up to 80 kmh in Port Alberni, according to The Weather Network.
The District of Ucluelet is mopping up now that the weather has calmed down. “We made it through. The power went out yesterday (Dec. 20) at 8:30 a.m.,” Ucluelet Mayor Mayko Noel said. Highways crews are hoping to have the road at Kennedy Hill back to two lanes open “as early as tonight,” he added.
The district set up an emergency operations command centre in the event the power outage was extended. “We were told power is anticipated to be on at 2 p.m., which gave us a level of relief,” he said.
The Co-op grocery store and gas station remained open in Ucluelet. “It was nice to have those hubs open for community members to gather and discuss what was going on.”
Noel said the district did not have to open an emergency centre after all. “We were very well aware if the power outage went past this afternoon we were having discussions about the vulnerable people in our community and how to take care of them.”
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne posted on social media Friday morning that the District of Tofino opened the community centre at 351 Arnet Road “for anyone who’d like to come by and warm up, have a cup of coffee or tea, and visit with others.”
Tofino will keep its Facebook page updated with recovery operations, she added.
Osborne was stuck on the east side of Vancouver Island during the storm. “I’m grateful I’ll be able to make it home today after the highway closures – huge, huge thank you to the BC Hydro, highways, and public works crews hard at work yesterday and in some cases very late in to the night,” she posted.
More than 2,000 people on the west coast are still without power. BC Hydro called it “one of the most severe storms BC Hydro has experienced in years.” More than 750 spans of wire, 270 poles, 400 cross-arms and 150 transformers were damaged between Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and Fraser Valley. At one point Thursday night, 260,000 customers were without power, almost half of them on Vancouver Island—mostly between Victoria and Nanaimo.
The City of Port Alberni and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District opened a reception centre at Echo Centre (4255 Wallace St.), offering people a cot for sleeping and basic amenities to carry them through the night. Some tourists stuck in Port Alberni stayed the night, as well as BC Hydro workers, residents displaced due to the storm and those from the Port Alberni Shelter, who were evacuated from the shelter due to a bomb threat.
Approximately 50 people had registered at the centre by 11 p.m. Thursday, city recreation programmer Karen Freethy said. Freethy was one of the staff members working at the desk to check in people. Two rooms were set up with cots—one for men, one for women—where people could sleep.
Meals and snacks were provided to people Thursday night, and breakfast Friday morning. The emergency centre was going to remain open Friday as long as it was needed, Freethy said.
“We’re trying to run our programming in conjunction with being a support to people who need it.”