Snowstorm closes Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver

A severe snowstorm has knocked out power to thousands of BC Hydro customers on the South Coast of B.C. and closed the Trans-Canada Highway over the new Port Mann Bridge because of falling ice.

At least one person was injured and several cars were damaged by ice falling from the suspension cables supporting the 11-lane wide span across the Fraser River east of Vancouver, said the RCMP.

"The closure was necessary because falling ice from the bridge injured a motorist, who required ambulance attendants, and damaged vehicles," said RCMP Sgt Peter Thiessen.

"The bridge was closed for safety reasons, and will be reopened as soon as the weather situation improves."

Officials are hoping to have the Port Mann bridge reopened between 4 p.m. PT and 6 p.m., but drivers asked to find an alternate route or not drive at all if they don't need to.

The closure comes after snow and winter weather hit the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island for the second day in a row Wednesday, wreaking havoc on ferry service and public transit and leaving thousands without power.

Many streets around Metro Vancouver were closed because of falling trees and downed power lines, and drivers have been advised to stay off the roads unless necessary.

And with the snow turning to rain late in the afternoon, municipal crews were working to clear slush from around clogged storm drains to prevent flooding in many areas.

About 10,000 BC Hydro customers in Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were without power as of 2:30 p.m. PT, including large outages in Delta, Richmond, UBC and Sechelt.

Another 11,000 customers on north and central Vancouver Island were also without power — including Qualicum Beach, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Comox, Courtenay, Cumberland, Nanaimo, Port Hardy and Port Alberni.

Firefighters in Vancouver are warning people to be extremely cautious when walking underneath large trees.

"Firefighters have responded to a number of calls today where limbs have broken off and fallen to the ground," said a statement by the Vancouver Fire Department.

In the Interior of the province, emergency crews were trying to rescue at least one person inside a car that had gone off Highway 97 and into Wood Lake between Kelowna and Vernon.

RCMP confirmed officers were in the water trying to rescue the driver, but could not say if there were other people in the car. Highway 97 was closed in both directions while the rescue effort was underway.

High winds forced BC Ferries to cancel the majority of trips to and from Vancouver Island on Wednesday, and as of 3:30 p.m. the following routes were not operating.

Tsawwassen – Southern Gulf Islands.

Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay.

Texada Island – Powell River.

Comox – Powell River.

Cortes Island – Quadra Island.

Powell River – Texada Island.

Ferry service is expected to resume when the winds calm down.

"Reported winds have been strongest over exposed areas of Georgia Strait with steady speeds near 90 km/h and gusts to 110 km/h, and these winds should diminish through the afternoon," said the Environment Canada forecast issued at 10:47 a.m. PT.

The weather has caused problems for travellers all day across the Lower Mainland and much of the South Coast of B.C.

Motorists were advised to exercise caution and beware of ice and slush on the roads, though most municipalities were prepared for the snowfall.

Dan Moody, the manager of roads and traffic operations in Coquitlam, said 15 trucks were working around the clock to clear local roads.

"We're working on our priority 1 routes, which includes all of our public transit routes, our primary access routes for emergency vehicles, the major arteries throughout the city," he told CBC News.

"They are plowing and salting at this point in time, and basically trying to get it down to clear wet pavement for the travel portions of the roads."

The weather also caused problems for the following public transit routes in the region and commuters are advised to expect detours and delays to dress for cold weather.

Because of the slippery conditions, particularly on hills, many bus routes were suspended or severely delayed, TransLink was reporting.

HandyDart has been cut back to essential service in New Westminster, Burnaby, the Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Richmond.

SkyTrain services were operating normally, TransLink reported at noon.

In the Interior, Highway 1 was also closed in both directions east of Sicamous just after noon because of a vehicle accident.

Classes at SFU's Burnaby and Surrey campuses were cancelled for the day.

UBC cancelled final exams scheduled for the rest of the week at its main campus. Exams that are cancelled on the main campus will be rescheduled in January. Students in UBC's faculty of medicine and at the Robson Square campus are asked to check the website or call the campus for exam information.

Many flights in and out of Vancouver International Airport have been delayed and some were cancelled on Wednesday. Passengers are advised to check the airport's website for updates.

All of Vancouver's emergency cold weather shelters are also at full capacity with 160 beds occupied, city officials reported. All four of the emergency shelters are low barrier, meaning they allow residents to bring pets and shopping carts inside.

Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were under snowfall advisories, with as much as 10 centimetres of snow expected to fall in some areas by Thursday.

Email or tweet us your snow photos: @CBCNewsBC.

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