3 dead, thousands without power as huge storm tears Ottawa-Gatineau apart


Three people have died after a powerful storm tore through the Ottawa-Gatineau area on Saturday afternoon, knocking down trees and utility poles, damaging vehicles and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.

In Gatineau, Quebec, a 51-year-old woman died when her boat capsized on the Ottawa River in the Masson-Angers sector of the city, police told Radio-Canada.

The woman fell into the water and was taken to hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said.

In Ottawa, one person has died in the city’s west end, Ottawa police said at a news conference Saturday night. Details have been withheld until their family is notified, they said.

Two other people were seriously injured on two different golf courses, including one person who became trapped under a tree.

A car accident also resulted in serious injuries. Two light rail trains were stopped between stations by the storm, but everyone got off safely, officials said.

The Ontario Provincial Police said they are also investigating after a 44-year-old man was struck and killed by a falling tree at a cabin near Calabogie, Ont.

Environment Canada had issued severe thunderstorm warnings earlier in the day for a swath of eastern Ontario that included the nation’s capital and communities to the south and west.

At 3:18 p.m., a line of storms from about Denbigh, Ont., to Calabogie, Ont., was moving northeast at about 90 km/h, Environment Canada said.

An uprooted tree lies outside a home in Ottawa’s Stittsville neighborhood on May 21, 2022, following a storm that the city’s mayor, Jim Watson, called “massive.” (Ismael Sy/Radio-Canada)

The agency said the thunderstorms were potentially capable of producing 80 mph winds and dollar-sized hail.

Tornadoes were also possible, with Environment Canada calling it a “dangerous and life-threatening situation” in its warning.

Environment Canada lifted the warnings shortly after 4:30 p.m.

Later Saturday night, the weather agency said wind gusts of 120 km/h were measured at one location at the Ottawa airport.

After the storm passed, many locals shared photos of the damage on social media, including Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who walked around his ward and said the situation was “not going well”.

On Markham Avenue, high winds toppled the tree opposite Ola Levitin’s house, while ripping his own tree out of the ground and leaving it precariously poised.

“There’s a big crack in the ground, and it’s leaning towards our house. And my biggest fear right now is if there’s another gust of wind – or maybe [if] it came loose – one way or another it’s going to fall into the house,” Levitin said.

“In fact, we are considering [spending] the night elsewhere tonight.”

Egli said Saturday’s storm was uncomfortably reminiscent of the day in 2018 six tornadoes ripped through the areahitting his pupil particularly hard.

“For a while after that, whenever the skies got darker or the winds picked up, people got very, very nervous about what was going to happen,” he said. “And I’m sure that will reinforce that feeling.”

A downed tree lies across Flora Street downtown on May 21, 2022, after Ottawa was hit by a major thunderstorm. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

‘Hit us hard, hit us fast’

Ottawa police said earlier today that dozens of people were trapped in their vehicles due to downed power lines and live wires. The storm also caused two gas leaks, they said, and destroyed a barn in Ottawa’s western countryside.

The eastbound lanes of Route 174 near Trim Road were closed around 5:20 p.m. due to power lines in the roadway.

People should not travel, the force said, and urged people to only call 911 in an emergency.

Ottawa Fire Services said they are handling calls for downed wires, overturned trees, motor vehicle accidents and structural collapses.

In Stittsville, the roof of a multi-unit townhouse complex collapsed, causing ‘heavy damage’, according to the fire department said in a tweet.

“This one hit us hard, hit us fast, and affected virtually the entire city,” Kim Ayotte, general manager of the city’s emergency and protective services, said at Saturday night’s press conference. .

“I was at the airport earlier and saw overturned telephone sets, large uprooted trees, several power lines…cut in half. It was unbelievable. The area that was hit looks like nothing from what we have seen in my Memoir.”

Community members gather to look at a tree that was destroyed during a major storm in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Power outages could last for days

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a tweet that the storm had been “massive” and that the city’s emergency operations center had been “activated”.

“We have a full complement of municipal and hydro crews cleaning the roads and [restoring] power,” Watson wrote. “It’s been a huge storm and we ask for your patience.”

As of 10 p.m., Hydro Ottawa was reporting outages affecting more than 178,000 customers.

More than 100,000 Hydro-Québec customers were in the dark in Outaouais, as were more than 152,000 Hydro One customers in eastern Ontario.

Many substations in Ottawa are without power because the lines that feed them are down, Joseph Muglia, Hydro Ottawa’s system operations manager, said at the evening news conference.

“The problem is that not only do we have localized distribution issues within the system, but we also have issues with our provincial supplier and a loss of city supply as well,” he said.

Even with all available crew working around the clock, it will take time to assess the damage and restore power, Muglia said.

“More than likely, we’re dealing with a multi-day event here.”

A car is parked on Greenbank Road amid downed power lines May 21, 2022, following a powerful storm that tore through the Ottawa area. (Brian Morris/CBC)