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Thousands without electricity as strong winds hit Vancouver Island

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BC Hydro crews were attempting to get ahead of two storms on Thursday that were bearing down on Vancouver Island.

Eastern Vancouver Island is under a special weather statement Thursday as strong winds were expected to gust across the region.

Environment Canada predicted that southeast winds gusting up to 80 km/h would likely result in downed trees and power outages in communities from Nanoose Bay to Courtenay and Campbell River, B.C.

BC Hydro crews did their best to remove branches that threatened power lines before the storm began.

"We know we're never going to eliminate outages completely living on the west coast, but what we hope to do is lessen the impact on our customers," said Ted Olynyk, manager of communications with BC Hydro on Vancouver Island.

By 11 a.m., more than 18,000 BC Hydro customers were without power, with the largest outages reported in Victoria, Qualicum Beach, Duncan, and Port Alberni.

Across the province, nearly 50,000 BC Hydro customers lacked electricity by 11:30 a.m.

Repairs were being made throughout the day, with the total number of BC Hydro customers without power falling to about 900 on Vancouver Island around 4 p.m.

"All available BC Hydro crews and contractor crews will continue to work around-the-clock to repair damage and restore power to customers," said BC Hydro in an update around 11:30 a.m.

BC Hydro is reminding residents to call 911 if they see downed power lines and to stay at least 10 metres away from them.

ISLAND STORMS

The first storm on Vancouver Island is predicted to make landfall Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains and winds.

"The typical areas you're going to see more," said Warren Dean, CTV News Weather Specialist. "North Island areas, west coast, in through Comox and Campbell River. Then as it slides southward, those amounts will lessen," he said.

The second storm will arrive Saturday afternoon and into the evening, bringing in heavier rains and more wind gusts.

The rainfall is typical for October on Vancouver Island. The storms are coming after an unusually long drought for the region.

The lack of precipitation has weakened trees, leaving them vulnerable to flooding and falling.

"There is no moisture in the ground, the trees are very dry, so when you get winds it won't take much wind to topple trees, to break branches off and see that damage being done," said Dean.

On the Cowichan River, the coming rains are welcome news.

"Chinook are having a fairly decent run and we're still kind of stuck in those summer flows," said Tim Kulchyski, a Cowichan Tribes biologist.

Earlier in the week, the Cowichan Valley did receive a small amount of rain, prompting an estimated 1,000 Chinook salmon to make their way up stream.

Still, flows are too low to get them to their final spawning grounds.

It's hoped that by early next week, after a weekend of rain, flows will be high enough for those salmon to complete their journey.

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