City crews were still clearing fallen trees and about a thousand B.C. Hydro customers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were still without power Monday after what the power company called the worst storm in a decade.
At its height, the storm had 500,000 Lower Mainland homes, businesses and other Hydro customers blacked out, starting on Saturday at approximately noon.
“It was probably our busiest day ever,” said Maple Ridge deputy fire chief Howard Exner.
Firefighters dealt with 80 calls from 10:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturday, with 11 trucks on the road from all three halls.
Some of the calls were dramatic. A large cottonwood tree fell and hit a pickup being driven on 116th Avenue, and also fell on two other parked vehicles. All three of the cars appeared to be write-offs, he said, but the driver escaped serious injury.
“He wasn’t injured, but he was shaken up,” Exner said of the Maple Ridge man.
Hydro infrastructure was in disarray, and firefighters responded to a transformer explosion and eight electrical pole fires.
There were also calls about 12 trees on buildings or houses, and numerous complaints about trees on power lines.
Maple Ridge director of operations Russ Carmichael noted that city crews and emergency responders set up a unified command centre at Fire Hall No. 1, and they were running all day on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve been working 24-7 since Saturday,” he said Monday morning.
The wind was gusting to 63 km/h at the Pitt Meadows airport on Saturday morning and afternoon.
While there have been stronger winds, Carmichael explained that extremely dry weather loosened the soil. That, combined with the storm hitting while trees have not yet lost their leaves, created conditions where trees were blown down across the region.
There were 11 roads closed in Maple Ridge over the weekend, due to fallen trees or downed power lines.
Carmichael said the city had more than 100 calls of trees coming down, and is still getting calls from residents worried that trees are leaning, or making creaking sounds. People were scared to be in their homes, worried about nearby trees, he said.
In his 13 years with the city, Carmichael said he has seen more violent storms, but the damage over the weekend was remarkable.
“What was very unusual is the quantity of trees that came down, and the angst of residents over trees that haven’t yet come down,” he said.
The city hired two arborists to rapidly triage those trees, and the city and its contractors have been dealing with the most dangerous or urgent situations in priority sequence. The city was still getting new calls on Monday.
In Pitt Meadows, city staff and firefighters responded to continuous calls beginning on Saturday morning.
“For us, it’s been non-stop activity,” said chief administrative officer Kim Grout, noting that most of the calls related to fallen trees and power lines having been taken down.
One harrying situation had a propane leak at an abattoir on Ford Road, while power lines were down in the area. There was the potential for an explosion, but that didn’t happen.
There were also at least two Pitt Meadows homes damaged when trees fell on them.
“There are parts of the community still without power – since Saturday,” said Grout.
Businesses were shut down by the storm. Downtown Maple Ridge was mostly open for business on Sunday, but at the corner of 240th and Dewdney Trunk Road, the Save-on Foods store and the McDonalds were still closed on Monday, while the Starbucks and Subway had just opened that morning, after being closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Maple Ridge director of operations Russ Carmichael said city crews are now expecting to deal with flooding.
Rain started Monday and is forecast to continue through Friday, with 60 mm of precipitation anticipated. That’s how much rain Vancouver gets in an entire month of September, on average.
With so many branches and leaves laying in the streets, he asks that residents ensure that the catch basin on their street is clear of debris, so water can drain unimpeded.
“Please take the time to clean them off,” asked Carmichael. “We’re gearing up for flooding.”
He said residents in low-lying areas, who have had their basements flood in the past, should prepare for that eventuality again in the coming days.