Runners rescue homeless man living under Coal Harbour seawall during storm surge

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Image: leentburgs / Instagram

Marathon runners completing a regular weekly training session early Thursday morning rescued a man who was clinging for his life on the Coal Harbour seawall during the windstorm and storm surge.

At approximately 6:45 a.m., the Downtown RunVan Club’s group of nine runners had just started their run when they saw a man almost completely submerged in the water – on the edge of the seawall at Harbour Green Park.

Three of the runners immediately came to his assistance by lifting him out of the water and fortunately. While he was still conscious, he was initially non-communicative due to shock from being in the frigid waters for a period of time.

“The man was trying to hold on to the railings of the seawall but he was submerged in the water with only his hands and a bit of his face showing,” Mike Hsiao, a BMO Vancouver Marathon ambassador and UBC engineering student, told Vancity Buzz. “It was clear he was trying to get out of the water but cannot as he’s been in there for some time as it seems.”

At this time of the year, local sea water temperatures typically hover at around 6°C, and a prolonged submergence can lead to hypothermia.

Hsiao says hypothermia was a concern, so he dashed to the nearby Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel with two other runners to grab blankets and towels for the man. The runners also called 9-1-1 for paramedics, but the man refused any help from first responders and did not want to be sent to a hospital.

“He continued to reject our requests to contact emergency services or take him to the hospital, though he seemed to be recovering well,” said Greg Herringer, the running group’s team leader.

Concerned for his well-being, the group remained with the man and carried him to the nearest public washroom to help dry him off. As well, one of the runners bolted to his nearby home to retrieve dry and warm clothing for the man, and on his way back he bought him a warm drink and snack.

The name of the man rescued is not included in this article, but he is described by the runners as someone in his late 30s and early 40s.

“The man lives rough on the seawall and the reason he was in the water was that he was seeking shelter overnight in area that then flooded early in the morning due to the extremely high tide and storm surge,” continued Herringer.

Some of the runners returned to the location later in the day to check on his status and provide him with more food and clothing.

“I find worrisome that there may be many others out there who sleep under the seawall,” said Hsiao. “It’s definitely a dangerous place to be sleeping and had our teammate Michelle not see his hands holding on to the railings, what happened might have taken an ugly turn.”

Herringer echoed Hsiao’s thoughts, saying: “I don’t want to think what would have happened if we had chosen a different running route that day.”

Vancity Buzz has reached out to the Vancouver Park Board for comment.

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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