A BC Hydro crew member captured a photo of the extensive number of fallen trees in the Whiskey Creek/Hilliers area following a Dec. 20 windstorm. - BC Hydro photo

A BC Hydro crew member captured a photo of the extensive number of fallen trees in the Whiskey Creek/Hilliers area following a Dec. 20 windstorm. - BC Hydro photo

‘It looked like there was a volcano blast or a tornado went through there’

Hydro: Whiskey Creek, Cameron Lake areas rocked by windstorm

It was five-and-a-half days before Maureen Grecht and her husband got power back at their house in Little Qualicum River Village, following a severe windstorm on Dec. 20.

Grecht, who lives on a three-acre property on the back side of Cameron Lake, said she’s never seen anything like the devastation that was brought to her property last Thursday.

“We had extreme gusts here. I’ve never seen anything like that ever, and I’ve seen tornadoes and been in tornadoes before,” Grecht said. “This was incredible. [The wind] changed direction all the time, almost like a whirlwind. It came from one direction and then a few minutes later it swirled around and it came in another direction and it twisted these huge healthy trees like a corkscrew opening a bottle of wine.”

RELATED: 3 days after huge storm, thousands in Parksville Qualicum Beach region still without power

Grecht said the winds were so strong that a chesterfield from their outdoor patio sailed right over a railing and still remains missing.

“There’s no sign of it anywhere,” Grecht said with a laugh. “My husband and I were out trying to batten everything down and we actually had to kneel down and hang out to each other and hang on to trees. All the debris that was flying was wiping us too. I was watching huge planters with trees in them being spun around like tops and then smashed. It was absolutely surreal.”

RELATED: Hydro crews still working to restore power 4 days after massive windstorm

Grecht said about 15 large trees went down on their property, with one hitting and damaging the roof of their house and another one causing damage to their garage.

“It’s a three-car garage and it has a big hole in the roof and we have tarped that and tried to protect it until everything calms down and we can get that fixed up,” she said.

Grecht and her husband stayed at their home the entire five days without power, working hard to clean up the storm damage.

“We were here protecting our property the whole time, we never stopped working on keeping the house protected and the garage protected,” Grecht said.

The couple had a one-burner camp stove and an outdoor barbecue they used to cook with and a small gas fireplace.

The Grecht’s power was restored on Christmas Eve, but by then it was too late to salvage about $2,000 worth of food.

BC Hydro Crews remained working on restoring power for about 50 customers near Whiskey Creek, as of Dec. 27.

RELATED: Power restored to ‘99 per cent’ of people in B.C. affected by massive windstorms

About 40 customers are still without power west of Chatsworth Road, about five customers are without power in the 3900 block of Alberni Highway and about five in the 3700 block of the Alberni Highway. Customers are expected to get power back on by 9 p.m. on Dec. 27.

“Whiskey Creek-Hilliers area was one of the most hard-hit areas on the whole Island. When our crews got there, they said it was total devastation,” said Ted Olynyk, community relations manger with BC Hydro. “We had helicopter crews patrolling and when they came to Whiskey Creek it was unbelievable what they saw. We had a picture of the mountainside and it looked like there was a volcano blast or a tornado went through there and all these trees falling like toothpicks.”

Olynyk said BC Hydro crews had to do a complete system rebuild in the Whiskey Creek area.

“We had to replace power poles, all the lines, everything. It was like starting from square one,” he said. “Considering how much damage was there it’s amazing that they’re able to get [power] on even this fast.”

Olynyk said last Thursday’s storm was one of the worst they company has seen in more than 20 years.

“I remember in 2006 Hilliers was an area that was hit very hard as well, so clearly it’s something with the wind coming from the west coast, it just funnels right down,” Olynyk said.

BC Hydro has restored power to more than 700,000 customers since the storm hit on Thursday, and is expecting to have the remaining 6,500 customers without power restored by Dec. 31.

“If you’re still without power please call us at 1-800-224-9376 we want to make sure we don’t miss anybody,” Olynyk said.

Related: VIDEO: Parksville Qualicum Beach region deals with windstorm havoc

Dale Martin, Mainroad Contracting operations manager, who was servicing Highway 4 post storm, agreed that the stretch of highway between Whiskey Creek and Cameron Lake received the most damage.

Martin said he counted 65 fallen trees the night of the storm.

“There was more than that but what was visible and that we could see was about 65,” he said.

Martin said he believes heavy rains that hit the region recently saturated the ground and caused trees to topple over more easily in the storm.

“We will still have cleanup for two-and-a-half to three weeks,” Martin said. “The danger trees have now been brought down… now we’re in the process of removing trees off location.”

Martin said Mainroad is working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to create a stock pile of fallen trees for future sale.

“They’re sellable lumber…we will take them to the government gravel pits and stock pile them there and they’ll do an assessment,” Martin said.

The Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department responed to about 43 calls on Dec. 20, 17 on Dec. 21 and another five on Dec. 22.

“We were very busy on the 20th,” said Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department chief Aaron Poirier. “We had assistance from Qualicum Fire Department and Arrowsmith SAR, while working in coordination with BC Hydro, BCAS, RCMP, Mainroad, MOTI and The RDN EOC.”

Poirier said fire members started working at 9:45 a.m. on Dec. 20 and didn’t clear the hall until 11 p.m.

“Our range of calls were reports of people trapped in structures to people trapped in vehicles, hydro issues, lines on vehicles, fire alarms and automatic aid calls,” Poirier said. “At the peak we had five apparatus from Coombs, one apparatus from Qualicum and two helicopters working to respond to calls for service.”

The Qualicum Beach Fire Department had about 13 calls starting at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 20.

“Five of those calls were from assisting Coombs-Hillers Fire Department,” said Qualicum Fire chief Darryl Kohse. “We sent one engine that spent several hours in Coombs attending calls.”

According to the Nanoose Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page, they also had a busy couple of days.

“The first 36 hours was by far the busiest, seeing 42 calls,” reads the Dec. 24 post. “Of that there was a 40-foot boat that caught fire in the engine area, two structure fires, one with significant damage but still livable, the other unfortunately was a total loss. Other calls included four false alarms from automatic alarm systems or smoke/CO detectors and the balance was for hydro related calls…Total calls over the past 72 hours is 52.”

The Parksville Fire Department responded to 15 calls for services on Dec. 20 and 21.

“I think we got lucky not to have more issues. While our crews were busy and we did see some significant power outages, we didn’t see anything like some of our more rural neighbours,” said Parksville fire chief Marc Norris. “Generally more of our electrical infrastructure (in the city) is below ground and properties are smaller, with smaller trees and less trees. The more rural areas took a real beating in terms of the sheer number (volume) of downed power lines and damage, all of which takes time and resources to make the required repairs.”

A warming centre was opened for Parksville Qualicum Beach residents without power following the windstorm.

Set up in the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre, until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, residents were able to charge their electronic devices, have a warm drink and a light snack and also to fill water containers they could take home. Showers were also made available at the Ravensong pool for those affected by the storm. Buses were also available for those living in regional areas that did not drive.

More than 250 residents used the warming centre, that was hosted by Oceanside Emergency Support Services and Oceanside Emergency Communications Team.

karly.blats@pqbnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Four residents and two cats were displaced from their home in James Bay when a fire broke out Sunday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
No injuries in James Bay house fire

Fire broke out at about 2 p.m. Sunday

A single-vehicle incident has closed southbound traffic along the Pat Bay Highway from Sayward Road Monday morning. Emergency crews are on scene. (Black Press Media file photo)
TRAFFIC: Single-vehicle incident closes section of Pat Bay

Highway southbound from Sayward Road closed Monday morning

LeoVegas's promotional art for their survey of Canada's funniest proviences (LeoJoker)
B.C. second-funniest province in Canada: online survey

Dry humour popular with B.C. residents – we’re also boisterous laughers

University of Victoria researchers received more than $9 million from the federal government for projects that aim to advance big ideas, discoveries and innovations. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
University of Victoria research boosted with more than $9 million in federal funding

The research funding will support a wide range of projects and study

Coun. Bob Thompson wants authorities to delay the June 30 deadline for submissions to BC Housing’s request-for-proposal to run the supportive housing project at Prosser Road. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich calls for delay in supportive housing project deadline

Municipality wants more say in eventual choice of contractor to run supportive housing project

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read