The frigid temperatures, icy rain and snow has threatened the health of Abbotsford’s most vulnerable residents, said Les Talvio, executive director of the Cyrus Centre. He said the “life-threatening conditions” both exacerbate existing illnesses and can cause new ones.
Emergency weather protocols have been in place at local homeless shelters every night since Dec. 18. On those nights, 30 extra beds are rolled out at the Gateway Community Christian Reformed Church, 20 at the Salvation Army, 10 at the WarmZone for women and 10 at the Cyrus Centre for youth up to 24 years old.
But even with the extra beds available, there are many people still braving the cold nights outside, Talvio said. While no one is turned away, he said that by the time the shelters open around 8 p.m., many people are already bundled-up and settled in for the night. The shelters may need to consider opening earlier to get people inside and warm by that time, he said.
In addition to running a shuttle to collect people and bring them to the various shuttles, Talvio said outreach workers have been handing out toques, socks, gloves, hand-warmers and other items to make the winter conditions more bearable for homeless men and women.
Anyone wishing to donate clothing and other goods for the homeless can do so at the Cyrus Centre, Salvation Army or WarmZone, Talvio said.
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Nearly a week after freezing rain first started falling in Abbotsford, the city continues to take stock of the damage caused by the devastating winter storm that meteorologists say is likely without precedent here.
Freezing rain falling for 42 consecutive hours in Abbotsford left more than 150,000 in the region without power and downed trees, turned roads into skating rinks and buckled BC Hydro infrastructure.
The rain, which began last Thursday and continued through Friday night, left a thick ice accretion of 40 to 50 millimetres on nearly every exposed surface, said Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald.
The storm cut power for around 160,000 customers and was so severe that 200 people – mostly in rural areas – remained without electricity as of Tuesday morning. BC Hydro – which enlisted 90 crews, with around 450 workers, in the cleanup effort – expected to have that power restored by the end of the day.
The freezing rain, which MacDonald said is “the absolute worst of all precipitation types,” began falling Thursday.
By Friday afternoon, trees began falling across the city, closing roads and helping trigger a wave of power outages. Those continued as the weight of the ice brought down power lines and even crumpled steel infrastructure, including a crossbeam on a tower carrying lines across the Fraser River.
The city’s parks were ruled off limits due to the danger from falling branches and even whole trees. As many as 16 roads were closed at a single time due to downed tree limbs, power lines and icy conditions, according to Peter Sparanese, Abbotsford’s general manager of engineering and utilities.
By midday Tuesday, Exhibition Park had been re-opened, but the rest of the city’s trails and parks remained closed due to the ice. And stretches of Olund Road and Fore Road also were closed. Drivers were also reporting falling ice from light standards on the Mission Bridge on Highway 11.
Fraser Health, though, said there was no uptick in emergency room visits linked to last week’s storm.
MacDonald said a unique set of atmospheric conditions is needed for freezing rain to occur, with a band of warm moist air overlaying a layer of cold air closer to the ground, which is below freezing. That’s exactly what occurred in Abbotsford.
While areas farther west received a large dose of rain, and places farther east got up to two feet of snow, in Abbotsford the precipitation came down as freezing rain. And because the conditions didn’t change substantially, it kept coming down.
The weather is expected to get better, though, and MacDonald said warmer temperatures and rain will likely wash away much of the ice toward the end of the week.
– with files from Kelvin Gawley