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Severe storm left swath of damage across the North Peace

Several homes and businesses in the North Peace were damaged and left in ruin by Wednesday night’s severe thunder and lightning storm, and Environment Canada is investigating whether the storm caused another tornado.

Update:

The Peace River Regional District says any residents impacted by tornado touchdowns in the region and in need assistance should contact the PRRD at 250-784-3200 or 1-800-670-7773, Leave your name, telephone number, address and number of residents in your household. The PRRD says someone will contact you as soon as possible on Friday, July 2.


Several homes and businesses in the North Peace were damaged and left in ruin by Wednesday night’s severe thunder and lightning storm, and Environment Canada is investigating whether the storm caused another tornado.

Environment Canada says there were about 16,000 lightning strikes in the Peace district with wind gusts up to 100 kilometres per hour, caused by a wicked band of weather that stretched from 100 Mile House on north and moved through the region.

Thousands are still without power, with BC Hydro crews en route from Prince George and the Lower Mainland, and with property damage reported in Red Creek, Blueberry River, Prespatou,  Montney, and Doig, after what residents described was a tornado.

In Blueberry, Clarence Apsassin said the storm lifted trailers and other structures off the ground while levelling swaths of tree stands.

“It was surreal,” Apsassin said on Thursday. “A lot of damage, pretty well wiped out … my shop was 30, 40 [feet] in the air.”

“Right now we need food, water, generators,”  he said, adding those able to help can call him at 250-794-8551, or Shelley Gauthier at 250-262-1946.

In Prespatou, residents reported that the storm demolished house trailers, tore off the roofs of others, and lifted and moved a new house that had been under construction. Elsewhere, whole grain silos were overturned, and damage is estimated to be in the millions.

On Friday, MLA Dan Davies said he was out to survey the damage in Red Creek, while the BC Grain Producers Association was out surveying the extent of damage in Prespatou.

Environment Canada could not immediately confirm whether the weather event did indeed produce a tornado but said it is investigating. Wind gusts during the storm ranged from 100 kilometres per hour in Chetwynd, to 90 kilometres in Fort St. John.

Several homes in Fort St. John were damaged during similar storm conditions last August, and which Environment Canada confirmed at that time was caused by a weak tornado between 0 to 1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

“There was a very large, broad thunderstorm, pretty nasty, that did go through the area,” said meteorologist Gary Dickinson told Alaska Highway News on Thursday. “It was a pretty nasty storm last night.”

BC Hydro says the strong winds caused a number of outages affecting Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, and Fort St. John, and expected customers in the areas of Chetwynd and Fort St. John to be without power for today.

There were 39 outages affecting 3,403 customers in the Peace region as of Thursday afternoon:

- In Fort St. John, there were 10 outages affecting 2,869 customers

- In Hudson's Hope, there was one outage affecting 411 customers

- In Chetwynd, there were nine outages affecting 110 customers

- In Dawson Creek, there was one outage affecting 12 customers

"We are bringing in additional BC Hydro and contractor crews from Prince George and the Lower Mainland to help out today and tomorrow. Outages are prioritized and crews dispatched to the largest ones; restoration times are not being estimated," said BC Hydro spokesman Bob Gammer said.

"While we work to get as many customers on as we can, due to the volume of calls, we expect some customers will be without power for the day. We are usually able to restore 90%+ of affected customers within the first 24 hours following widespread damage from a large storm. We ask customers for their patience while restoration work is underway."

More than 6,000 customers were impacted by the storm, and power had been restored to about 2,000 customers since the morning, Gammer said. Several other outage calls have come in since, which were mostly small numbers of customers who had not reported earlier, he said.

"There is significant damage in many locations with trees down on power lines and broken poles," Gammer said. "There are reports of wire on the ground – if you see wire down, please stay back 10 metres and call 911 with details of the location."

About 150,000 lightning strikes were recorded across the province last night, Dickinson confirmed.

In Fort St. John, firefighters responded to what Fire Chief Darrell Blades says was a minor fire on the roof of the old Greyhound building, which caused some damage, he said. Two apparatus and two duty vehicles for a total of 9 staff responded, Blades said.

"We also had a few alarm calls from the power bump and a tree down call all handled by the on duty crew," Blades said.

A severe thunderstorm watch remains in place for the B.C. Peace tonight, with conditions favourable for the development of severe thunderstorms that may be capable of producing strong wind gusts, large hail, and heavy rain, Environment Canada says.

Meteorologists are compiling pictures and footage of Wednesday night's storm and its damage. Residents can email them to BCStorm@canada.ca and bcstorm@ec.gc.ca.


Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca