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Storm surge floods WV foreshore

Tide pushes water across Ambleside Park

A winter storm surge sent waves and large driftwood logs crashing over the West Vancouver Seawalk Monday morning, breaking benches and stone walls and flooding two municipal galleries with ocean water.

The seaside Silk Purse and Music Box galleries stood in a lake of seawater at the height of the surge, between 8: 30 and 9 a.m.

"Water was two feet up the building," said Ian Haras, manager of park operations for the District of West Vancouver.

"There's going to be major water damage."

"We had a foot and a half of water through Ambleside Park," said assistant fire chief Martin Ernst, whose crews stood by to assist municipal workers. "In my time in West Vancouver, it was one of the highest oceans I've seen in a very long time."

The surge Monday came about through a combination of wind and wave conditions and among the highest tides of the year.

Monday's high tide - a naturally occurring phenomenon known as a king tide - was more than five metres high.

Pumps were working overtime as restoration crews started work to assess water damage to the buildings on Tuesday.

Municipal crews closed off the Seawalk and Ambleside Park on Monday morning as high tides and strong waves created a potentially dangerous situation.

Logs were tossed on to park benches, some boulders were dislodged and parts of the low stone wall edging the Seawalk were damaged.

The total value of the damage has yet to be assessed. Ray Fung, director of engineering for the municipality, said while sections of Bellevue Avenue were flooded between 14th and 16th streets Monday morning, most of the damage was confined to the shoreline area. "We weathered it pretty well," he said.

Crews were out after the tides receded checking the piers to make sure they were structurally sound.

Fung said Monday's storm surge was "a wake up call to all of us regarding the frequency of extreme weather events."

A report released last week by the province pointed to increasing impacts of climate change and storm surges on the shoreline of the Lower Mainland. That report estimated the total cost of protecting against flooding could be more than $9 billion over the next century.

West Vancouver is one of the areas expected to feel the biggest impacts. The report estimates that building dikes in the municipality would cost more than $400 million - mostly because of the high cost of land.

Fung said that's not an option currently favoured by the district. "I'm not sure it's practical," he said.

Instead, the district is pursuing measures like placing rocks below the seawall to break the impact of the waves, considering breakwaters and "flood proofing" by building at higher elevations in any shoreline redevelopment.

Meanwhile, both Fung and Ernst said the public could take measures to reduce risks. Ernst noted a number of people ignored requests to get off the Seawalk. "Water is a very strong force," he said. "Certain people were really risking their safety."

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