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Remote Vancouver Island communities pull together in face of deep snow, no power

Zeballos, Tahsis, Gold River cut off from rest of Island; spend days without power
The warming centre in Tahsis, where people have been without power since early Tuesday morning. Photo courtesy SRD

What happens in a community when they are on their fourth day without power and then they get over 30 cm of snow overnight?

Turns out they really show what “community” means.

Zeballos has been without power on and off since Monday, and like the rest of the Island they have received more snow in one day than they have in years. However, according to Mayor Julie Colborne, that has not put a damper on people’s community spirit. If anything, it has made the sense of community in the tiny tone on northern Vancouver Island even stronger.

“Isn’t it amazing how the community just pulls together and does stuff for their neighbours?” she said. “We’ve got people donating fuel and people are getting things to their neighbours. I’m just astounded by the kindness of the strangers and neighbours alike.”

“Our hearts are with Tahsis, they’re in the exact same position as us, and our hearts go out to them,” she said.

RELATED: Power outages in Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos affecting 1,600

Zeballos and neighbouring community Tahsis are fairly remote on Vancouver Island’s west coast. In the best of times, food security is an issue for villagers, whose closest grocery store is in Campbell River. Now with the roads closed, people have to turn to each other for necessary supplies.

However, SRD protective services coordinator Shaun Koopman isn’t too worried about villagers in Tahsis.

“You don’t live in Tahsis if you have to go to Starbucks,” Koopman said. “I am not worried about the residents up there.”

The emergency response in the communities has been aided by the Strathcona Regional District’s Emergency Operations Centre. Since things are happening so quickly, people have been trying to find off-the-cuff solutions to the issues. One idea was for a helicopter to bring food supplies in to the Zeballos warming centre, but because of the inclement weather that idea didn’t work out. Instead a barge with food and fuel has been donated and will be arriving in Zeballos this afternoon. Colborne said that since people have stepped up, the village should be fine for food for the day at least, and hopes that the roads get cleared in the meantime, allowing food shipments to come in.

“There will be supplies brought to us somehow,” she said. “We’ve advised people not to travel on the road because it’s better to let those guys do their jobs. They’re out there plowing and trying to keep it open for us for essentials. Somehow, some way we are going to get medicines and food for the warming centre. Then we’ve had a gracious donation from Grieg Seafood for fuel.”

Colborne hopes that the power will be back on on Friday afternoon.

“That’s in perfect case scenario and in the best of conditions. We’re not in the best of conditions right now,” she said. “We’re building contingency planning for Sunday or so or even after, just so that we’re more prepared.”

Fixing the power system also is reliant on a helicopter, according to a release from B.C. Hydro.

“The continued heavy snowfall has caused extensive damage to the line serving customers in Tahsis and Zeballos,” it says. “We assessed damage using a helicopter yesterday, and we began work in areas where it was safe to do so. As more heavy snowfall is expected, work progress will be dependent on the weather conditions and crews ability to safely access damaged areas.”

Gold River has also seen more power outage issues this season than it does normally. Mayor Brad Unger posted on the village website that he and staff have “had discussions with the BC Hydro’s Vancouver Island community relations manger, Ted Olynyk, in regards to the current and past issues.”

Potential solutions were to have a crew stationed in the village, but Unger wrote BC Hydro’s response was that it would be “very difficult for many reasons.”

“During severe weather storms like the one recently experienced, crews come from all over the island and the length of time they can work without a break is an issue that must be considered,” Unger’s note says.

Despite the tough conditions, Colborne says that the villagers’ spirit has only reaffirmed her love for the area.

“The North Island is the place to be, man.”

RELATED: BC Ferries rep explains the strain the latest winter storms put on the system

Campbell River snow clearing operations challenged by recent extreme snowfall events

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Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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