B.C. Hydro crews, community spirit save Christmas on Pender Island
With files from Kurt Leavins
Hydro crews on British Columbia’s south coast have restored power to thousands more customers who have been in the dark since last Thursday’s powerful wind storm, but many more remain without electricity.
BC Hydro says about 4,000 customers still have no lights, down from roughly 7,000 customers early on Boxing Day.
The latest update from BC Hydro says the vast majority of customers still affected on Vancouver Island, along with approximately 300 residents of Penelakut Island, just east of Ladysmith, can expect to have power restored by Thursday night.
More than 30 crews continue to work around the clock to resolve outages on other hard-hit Gulf Islands, and BC Hydro says electricity should be on between Friday and Sunday.
Winds topping 100 km/h hammered southern B.C. on Dec. 20, knocking out electricity to more than 700,000 customers, damaging hundreds of power lines and transformers, and leaving roads covered by trees and debris.
The tiny island of Pender Island was perhaps hit the hardest. Situated just North of Saanich in the middle of the Salish Sea, Pender’s 2,200 residents saw their community all but shut down by the big blow.
The wind uprooted 100-foot trees, splaying them across roads and dropping them on top of houses. It snaked hydro lines across the island like so much Spaghetti, blocked roads from one isolated inner-island neighbourhood to the other, and for a time even shut down B.C. Ferries service, usually a lifeline for islanders.
The local volunteer fire department co-ordinated emergency efforts with all other emergency services. Local stores, their own lights off and power out, cracked open their doors for those in desperate need of supplies. The service station carefully rationed out gasoline for generators. Neighbours checked on other neighbours, some of them seniors and shut-ins with limited ability to manage the sudden hardships.
“My neighbor is elderly and can manage when conditions are normal”, explained one volunteer as they headed off to check on others, “but when there’s no lights, no heat, no water, even us able-bodied folks find it tough”!
But while the community showed its true colours, they also adopted some new and honorary citizens: The dozens of B.C. Hydro crews who converged on Pender Island. Often in driving wind and soaking rain, they one-by-one spliced the island’s electrical grid back together. In many cases, it had to be done from atop cherry-pickers which swayed in the darkness as crews worked around the clock to restore essential services that had been out for over 4 days.
“People should know the work these crews do”, added a local contractor, “putting their lives on the line in the dark in the middle of the night, trying to string all of those power lines back together. Praise B.C. Hydro Blue Collar”.
By Christmas Eve, a large majority of the island was back up and running. But the community spirit didn’t end. Thankful residents met Hydro workers with boxes of fresh-baked Christmas cookies and thermoses of coffee. Later in the day, at the local pub, a thank-you meal was planned for the hydro crews, many away from their own families on Christmas.
As one thankful and relieved islanders put it, “So far as we’re concerned, Santa Claus wears a B.C. Hydro Jacket. They saved us. And they saved our Christmas. Thank you”.
BC Hydro hopes to have all the power restored by New Year’s eve at the latest.