On the morning of December 20, 2018, my wife Georgina and I headed out of Sayward to do some Christmas shopping in Campbell River. There was a wind warning out but the wind was light and we even saw a bit of sun on our way to Campbell River. We did our shopping and headed home, the wind picked up a bit around Roberts lake and we could see that a few trees had come down, there were branches on the road. All in all, though, it was pretty calm out compared to what the weather channel had warned could be coming.
Then we turned onto the Sayward road around 5 pm and there was a police roadblock stopping all cars from going any further. The parking lot at the Sayward junction was full of cars, even the school bus loaded with kids was waiting. I talked to Kim Graham who is the head of our RCMP attachment and she informed me that multiple trees had been blown onto the road, taking power poles and hydro wires down with them. I asked her if she knew if the logging road into town was blocked and she told me all roads to town were blocked. BC Hydro crews were working to open the road and we all had to just sit and wait it out.
As we waited we could see people going in and out of the co-op gas station with popcorn and coffee, the co-op was giving this out free. The crossroads restaurant and pub were also providing coffee and they were giving free pizza to the kids on the school bus as well. Gives one a good feeling to see our little community helping out like this. Much respect on my part to these businesses.
We had our fill of coffee and popcorn while we waited and after about an hour we decided to check out the logging road, there were many trees down but someone had cut a way through the worst and we could drive over the rest of them, it was slow going but we made it to the intersection of the logging road and Sayward Rd. We turned onto Sayward Rd but only made it about 100 meters before we ran into a huge pile of trees on the road that was tangled up wire power lines. We turned around and headed back onto the logging road to reach town. This road had been cut out as well and we were able to reach home.
When we got into the house, the kids told us that it was terrifying during the storm, they thought the roof would be torn off and that it sounded like a freight train was running through the house. It had felt like the windows would blow in. The power was out but the wind had eased off quite a bit. The kids had the storm lanterns going, I set up our camping stove, cooked up a stir fry, made some coffee. After we ate, we all headed off to bed early.
I got up just before daylight and headed off to get some photos. The damage that was done was incredible, Sayward road looked like a right away that had just been felled, trees were piled up 3 to 4 meters high and in groups of up to 30 trees per pile. There were many trees on homes and outbuildings, but the damage to these properties was minimal considering the number of trees that had fallen. There were many poles, transformers, and wires on the ground. After checking out all the damage, I realized that power would not be restored anytime soon. So off to town we go to rent a generated so that we would not lose our food in the freezer and fridge. Power was not restored for 4 days.
The village of Sayward was on top of things during this time, they opened the community center for longer hours. The center had auxiliary power. Free showers and the use of the kitchen facilities were open to all who needed to wash or cook food. There were free snacks and coffee as well.
Living in a small village on the east coast of Vancouver Island has its charm but sometimes the weather can get a bit wild and being so far from the larger communities where the restoration of power is more critical means it will take a little longer get to us. The people of Sayward always pull together to help one another in times like this and to be truthful, the BC Hydro crews and Sayward Valley Communications guys, Ian and Larry were all incredible. BC Hydro crews were determined to get power to us for Christmas and they delivered. When the power came on, cable and internet were ready as well.
According to the BC Hydro President and COO Chris O’Riley, “This was the most damaging storm in BC Hydro’s history”. Over 80% of the residents of Vancouver Island lost their power from this storm. Many for more than a week.