BC Ferries is resuming service on many of its routes but thousands of people are still without electricity after severe winds hammered many areas of the West Coast.

During the peak of the morning storm, more than 55,000 BC Hydro customers were without power and ferry service on seven routes was suspended on Wednesday.

But by 2 p.m. PT, the storm appeared to be abating and ferry service was expected to resume on most routes by 3 p.m.

Sustained winds hit 94 km/h by 7 a.m. PT as the storm pushed across the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, leaving heavy snow in many areas and knocking out power to more than 38,000 customers across the island.

Officials in Tofino were warning people to stay off the beaches because 120 km/h winds and nine-metre waves could create deadly surges.

As the storm began crossing over to the Lower Mainland around 9:30 a.m. it knocked down power lines, leaving another 18,000 customers without power.

BC Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynick said that once the winds hit 80 km/h, it became too dangerous for crews to work on downed lines, so some customers may be waiting a while for power to come back on.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said service had been cancelled on a large number of routes throughout the day, and travellers are advised to check the BC Ferries website for updates.

"The concern really is for passengers walking around the vessel," she said. "They could fall and get injured. It could also be plates and what not.

"We would also have challenges docking and undocking the ships, damaging the terminal structures.

Wind damage forecast

Environment Canada forecast that southeast winds would peak just before noon Wednesday, with gusts of 120 km/h to 140 km/h on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver were expected to get southeasterly wind gusts from 70 to 100 km/h, and possibly stronger.

The wind direction will rapidly shift to southwesterly, with gusts of 80 km/h to 120 km/h on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and the Central Coast.

Farther south, a shift to southerly winds of 60 to 80 km/h is expected as the associated front crosses Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver.

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BC Hydro planned to have repair crews on standby, said spokesperson Simi Heer.

City of Vancouver street crews are to be stationed around the city with chainsaws and other gear to help remove downed trees or limbs that block roads and sidewalks, the city said in a release Tuesday.

City electrical staff will also monitor traffic signals and will be ready to make repairs and maintain safety where possible, the release said.

"The powerful winds and the rapidly shifting direction could cause significant and widespread wind-related damage and power outages," Environment Canada said in a release Tuesday night.

"In the past, storms of this strength have also caused significant damage to marinas and disrupted marine and air travel."

Winds were not expected to be as severe as in the December 2006 storm that levelled about 1,000 trees in Stanley Park with gusts of nearly 160 km/h.