Salt Spring BC Hydro employees say a few words to a cheering crowd at the Salt Spring Blowdown Brunch at the Farmers’ Institute on Jan. 1. From left are Stefan Peters, Rene Thibault, Ian Fernandes and Josh Rosborough. (Gail Sjuberg/Gulf Islands Driftwood)

Salt Spring Stands Tall With Blowdown Brunch

People shared storm-experience stories as they gathered around tables of donated food, hugged their friends and neighbours and applauded those who helped

  • Jan. 1, 2019 2:00 p.m.

Special from the Gulf Islands Driftwood

Twelve days after a vicious wind storm tore through B.C.’s south coast, its Salt Spring Island victims got together to celebrate.

They gave thanks to paid and volunteer emergency service providers, to friends and neighbours — especially those with chainsaws — and to local businesses that stepped up to fill huge gaps left when the power went out on the afternoon of Dec. 20 and could not be quickly restored.

RELATED: More than 300,000 without power at one point due to B.C. windstorm

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“This was exactly what we envisioned,” said Marilyn Guille, one of the central organizers of the Salt Spring Blowdown Brunch, which saw several hundred people stream through the Farmers’ Institute doors during the four-hour event.

People shared storm-experience stories as they gathered around tables of donated food, hugged their friends and neighbours, applauded as names of helping groups and businesses were read out, and wrote words of thanks on roll-end paper spread out on other tables. They bid on about 30 silent auction items and the K-Tones provided music in between addresses from the mic.

Stefan Mitchell, who heads the Ganges BC Hydro office, said to a cheering crowd, “Thanks so much to everyone, like the firefighters, the flaggers, the tree guys, the paramedics, office staff, the community in general and the restaurants that really stood up … . Over Christmas a lot of people missed their holidays.”

“Including you!” shouted someone in the hall.

“It was definitely an experience, but the community pulled together and we got ‘er done,” said BC Hydro worker Rene Thibault.

Quarry Drive resident Stan Garrod said he really liked the “slogan” that had appeared in the past few days that epitomized the way people and resources worked together: “We were without electricity but not without power!”

It was also frequently pointed out that “no one died” as a result of the storm or its aftermath, which is hard to believe considering the dangerous conditions of both Dec. 20 and in the ensuing days. At the same time, a number of people on Sunday said they were eager to participate in a more formal debrief session to discuss how the island could be better prepared for the next natural disaster. Emergency responders will hold a detailed debrief session and a whole-community town hall is also in the works.

Celebration was not the only theme of the day, however.

The loss of Edwina Badan’s Mount Belcher home to a Dec. 23 fire was recounted, with Salt Spring Fire Rescue’s giant fundraising boot used to collect funds and goods for herself and her family. Some of the silent auction funds will be directed to Badan as well.

The tragedy of how the Gulf Islands Secondary School rowing club lost over half of their boats kept on a St. Mary Lake property was related by Guille, school board chair Rob Pingle and rowing team students, who are willing to do work with the proceeds donated to their boat-replacement cause. The team’s first goal is to raise $5,000.

“That’s a lot of money, and that just gets us on our feet,” said Pingle.

New Salt Spring Therapeutic Riding Association facilities on Upper Ganges Road were also heavily damaged and will need funds for rehabilitation.

According to the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program, the whole island was without hydro power for about seven hours following the storm, with the hospital relying on generators to run during that period.

Service was restored to approximately 85 per cent of customers by Dec. 27 at noon. The remaining original outages were eliminated by Dec. 31. Mitchell said workers are still repairing damage in a number of areas even if power has been restored.

Recovery and warming centres were set up by the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program each day from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30, first at the Salt Spring Seniors Centre and then at the Salt Spring Public Library. An emergency reception centre was also opened at the Legion on the evening of Dec. 20 for people who were unable to get home due to impassable roads.

A number of roads were closed for several days or traffic restricted while clean-up and rehabilitation occurred. Some areas are still not fully clear of debris.

At the peak of electricity restoration efforts, more than 900 personnel, including contractor crews from Alberta and the East Coast, were employed in the recovery on the south coast.

Numerous households remain without telephone, internet and cable TV service.

– By Gail Sjuberg

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