A major cleanup effort is underway following Saturday’s severe storm that left at least eight people dead and hundreds of thousands without power after sweeping across southern Ontario and Quebec.
Environment Canada issued another tornado watch on Sunday for the Eastern Townships of Quebec and other regions, including Beauce and Montmagny-L’Islet.
Several areas of New Brunswick are also on tornado alert, including Woodstock and Carleton County, Stanley, Doaktown, Blackville and Fredericton and southern York County, New Brunswick. Most of the province is under storm watch.
Storm damage led the Ontario towns of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, and Clarence-Rockland, east of Ottawa, to declare states of emergency, while hundreds of thousands of people in both provinces remain without power as teams work to restore services.
A statement posted on the Township of Uxbridge website says there are widespread power outages and many roads closed due to downed trees and power lines.
Residents are urged to stay home to allow city workers to focus on clearing road hazards rather than managing traffic congestion.
Electricity providers, meanwhile, are warning that some customers could take days to get their electricity back.
“Between the trees, the branches, the broken poles and the wires, it really is a very, very messy cleanup,” said Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa.
She said while it’s not unusual to have such a high number of people temporarily without power – which for Hydro One stood at around 270,000 as of Sunday morning – the extent of the damage, including the toppling of metal transmission towers in the Ottawa area, is notable.
Hydro Ottawa said as of 9 a.m. ET Sunday morning it had reduced the number of local outages by more than 1,000 to 575, but about 176,500 customers were still affected.
200 poles destroyed in the Ottawa region
The utility could not say when most problems were likely to be fixed, noting that 200 utility poles had been knocked out or destroyed.
“The damage is deep,” the utility said in a Twitter update on Sunday.
“The situation is complex with significant damage to our infrastructure across the city, both transmission and distribution systems, and at this time we are unable to provide recovery time estimates,” said Hydro Ottawa said in an update Sunday morning.
“Crews have been working overnight and will continue to do so over the next few days. At this time, we believe this will be a multi-day restoration effort. large-scale outages, followed by smaller ones, keeping safety as the #1 priority.”
Hydro-Quebec said that at its peak, the storm knocked out power to 550,000 customers from Gatineau to Quebec, while around noon Sunday some 370,000 customers were still in the dark. Most power outages occurred in the regions of Quebec, Outaouais, Laurentides, Lanaudière and Montérégie.
A Hydro-Quebec spokesperson said most people should have their power later on Sunday, starting with those in the hardest-hit areas.
Destructive winds of a ‘derecho’
The level of damage in both provinces stems in part from the nature of the storm, which appears to have been what is called a “derecho,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng.
“When they say derecho, they mean widespread, long-lasting windstorms that are associated with fast-moving thunderstorms, and that seems to be what we had yesterday,” he said. “Because when you look at the damage, it was widespread, it wasn’t just one lead.”
Police are reminding residents to avoid travel if possible. Some areas of the city have downed power lines or trees and traffic lights at intersections may not work, making the roads dangerous. Let’s keep the roads clear for road crews and emergency services to work.#ottnews
Hydro One is Ontario’s largest utility provider and supplies power to Toronto Hydro, which tweeted Sunday morning that it continues to face “multiple outages across the city.”
Customers visiting the Toronto Hydro website were unable to get an update on areas still affected by outages as of late Sunday morning.
“We are working on restoring our outage map and appreciate your continued patience,” the utility said on the website.
A spokesperson said about 15,000 customers were still without power, compared to 110,000 who lost power during the storm.
The weather alert system activates
The storm carried winds strong enough to trigger the agency’s first use of the Weather Alert System that interrupts broadcast in the event of a thunderstorm, Cheng said.
Trees and power lines were toppled by fierce winds in a system that first developed near Sarnia, Ont., then moved west to the Ottawa and Quebec. Environment Canada reported maximum wind gusts of 120 km/h at Ottawa International Airport. At one point, winds reached 132 km/h at the airport in Kitchener, Ontario.
Deaths in Ontario from the storm include a 44-year-old man in Greater Madawaska, west of Ottawa; a woman in her 60s strolling through Brampton; a 30-year-old man struck by a tree in the Ganaraska Forest, east of Oshawa, Ontario; and a 59-year-old man on a golf course in Ottawa. In addition, one person was killed and two others were injured in their camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Brant County.
At an emergency press conference on Saturday evening, the City of Ottawa’s chief emergency officer, Kim Ayotte, was surprised by the scale of the storm.
“This one hit us hard, it hit us fast…I was at the airport earlier and saw telephone sets knocked over, tall trees uprooted, several power lines cut in half. was amazing. The steep area that was affected is unlike anything I’ve seen in my memory.”
Officials in Ottawa say clearing up the storm could take several days.