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Two hurt by falling ice chunks on Port Mann Bridge

The Port Mann bridge is void of traffic during rush hour in Coquitlam, British Columbia on December 19, 2012. Falling ice chunks which reportedly hit cars caused the RCMP to close the bridge temporarily.

ben nelms The Globe and Mail

The Crown corporation behind the new Port Mann Bridge will conduct a review after large chunks of ice fell from its overhead cables, injuring at least two people and damaging a handful of cars on the first day of heavy snowfall in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

Mounties closed the $3.3-billion bridge, which just opened early this month, at 2 p.m. Wednesday after receiving reports of falling ice denting car hoods and smashing through windshields. It remained closed through the afternoon.

Professional golfer James Lepp was heading eastbound along the bridge in early afternoon when he encountered the plunging pieces. "They were falling from way up and they were landing on the road, on the maintenance road – these big old bombs going off," he said. "They were hitting vehicles, but I thought, 'Oh, it's just snow. It won't do anything.' Sure enough, just as I was almost off the bridge, one hit my mirror and took it off."

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Some pieces of falling snow and ice were as wide as four feet across, Mr. Lepp said.

Motorist David Pensato described "large slush boulders raining down on vehicles below" – one of which shattered his windshield.

In a similar position was Sharon Hiemstra, who posted to Twitter a photo of what she said was her husband's car, crossing the Port Mann Bridge around 1:40 p.m. Chunks of ice appeared to have smashed through the vehicle's windshield, coming to rest on the dashboard.

At a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, Transportation Investment Corporation CEO Mike Proudfoot said the bridge is fully compliant with the Canadian Bridge Highway Design Code. However, he acknowledged the failure of the coated overhead cables, which were supposed to prevent ice accumulation by drawing snow and rain down the cables and off the bridge.

"It didn't work today," he said, noting specialists will be looking into the reason why. He described Wednesday's weather as "a very special type of winter storm."

By the end of the business day, the Insurance Corp. of B.C. had received 60 claims related to the Port Mann Bridge. It cannot be assumed all of those claims are related to falling ice, but the majority likely are, said ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman.

The Transportation Investment Corporation is already in contact with the insurance provider and will be reviewing each case individually. "Clearly, the motorists are not at fault in these kinds of circumstances," Mr. Proudfoot said.

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At least two people were injured by the falling ice, with one requiring ambulance attendance, said B.C. RCMP spokesman Sergeant Peter Thiessen. Between five and seven cars were confirmed to be damaged. "That's not to say the numbers won't increase, but right now, that's what we're aware of," he said.

At least six people posted to Twitter photos of what was purported to be damage to their vehicles caused by falling ice on the bridge.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State was closed for more than six hours last January following reports of ice falling from the structure.

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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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