Three people are dead after a powerful storm tore through the Ottawa-Gatineau region Saturday afternoon, knocking down trees and hydro poles, damaging vehicles and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
In Gatineau, Que., a 51-year-old woman died when her boat capsized on the Ottawa River in the city’s Masson-Angers sector, police told Radio-Canada.
The woman fell in the water and was taken to hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said.
In Ottawa, one person died in the city’s west end, Ottawa police said at a Saturday evening press conference. Details were being withheld until their family was notified, they said.
Two other people were critically injured at two different golf courses, including one person who ended up pinned under a tree.
A motor vehicle crash also resulted in serious injuries. Two light rail trains were brought to a halt between stations by the storm, but everyone got off safely, officials said.
Ontario Provincial Police said they were also investigating after a 44-year-old man was struck and killed by a falling tree at a cottage 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.
As of 3:18 p.m., a line of storms from roughly Denbigh, Ont., to Calabogie, Ont., was moving northeast at roughly 90 km/h, Environment Canada said.
The agency said the thunderstorms were potentially capable of producing 130 km/h winds and toonie-sized hail.
Tornadoes were also possible, with Environment Canada calling it a “dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation” in its warning.
Environment Canada lifted the warnings shortly after 4:30 p.m.
Later Saturday night, the weather agency said that 120 km/h wind gusts were measured at one point at the Ottawa airport.
After the storm subsided, many residents shared photos on social media of the damage — including Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who took a walk through his ward and said the situation was “not looking good.”
Just going through the community and it is not looking good. <a href=”https://t.co/uWz96T83AN”>pic.twitter.com/uWz96T83AN</a>
On Markham Avenue, the violent winds toppled the tree across from Ola Levitin’s house, while also pulling her own tree out of the earth and leaving it balancing precariously.
“There’s a big crack in the ground, and it’s leaning towards our house. And my biggest fear right now is that if there’s another gust of wind — or maybe [if] it got loosened — somehow that is going to fall into the house,” Levitin said.
“We’re actually considering [spending] the night somewhere else tonight.”
Egli said Saturday’s storm was uncomfortably reminiscent of the day in 2018 that six tornadoes tore through the region, hitting his ward especially hard.
“For quite some time after that, every time the sky got dark or the winds picked up, people got very, very nervous about what was coming,” he said. “And I’m sure this is going to reinforce that feeling.”
‘Hit us hard, hit us fast’
Ottawa police said earlier in the day that dozens of people ended up trapped in their vehicles due to downed power lines and live wires. The storm also caused a pair of gas leaks, they said, and destroyed a barn in rural west Ottawa.
The eastbound lanes of Highway 174 near Trim Road were closed at around 5:20 p.m. due to power lines on the roadway.
People should not travel, the force said, and urged people to only call 911 for emergencies.
Ottawa Fire Services said it was dealing with calls for downed wires, toppled trees, motor vehicle crashes and structural collapses.
In Stittsville, the roof of a multi-unit townhouse complex collapsed, causing “heavy damage,” the fire department said in a tweet.
Ottawa Police and emergency responders have been called to multiple fallen trees, fallen power lines and other storm damage through the Ottawa area as a result of the thunderstorm this afternoon. Some reports of injured people. Crews are assessing. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ONStorm?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ONStorm</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ottnews?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ottnews</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ottawa?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ottawa</a>
“This one hit us hard, hit us fast, and hit virually the entire city,” said Kim Ayotte, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services, at Saturday evening’s press conference.
“I was out at the airport earlier, and I saw telephone posts knocked down, large trees uprooted, several hydro lines … split in half. It was incredible. The sheer area that was affected is like nothing we’ve seen in my memory.”
Power outages could last days
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a tweet that the storm had been “massive” and that the city’s emergency operations centre had been “activated.”
“We have a full complement of city and hydro crews out clearing roads and [restoring] power,” Watson wrote. “This was a massive 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 the Outaouais, as were more than 152,000 Hydro One customers across eastern Ontario.
Substantial damage to our transmission system in the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ottawa?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Ottawa</a> area has also affected other electricity providers such as <a href=”https://twitter.com/hydroottawa?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@hydroottawa</a> and Hydro Hawkesbury <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ONstorm?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ONstorm</a> <a href=”https://t.co/eGlPdPfL92″>pic.twitter.com/eGlPdPfL92</a>
Many of Ottawa’s substations are without power as the lines that supply them are down, said Joseph Muglia, Hydro Ottawa’s director of system operations, at the evening press conference.
“The problem is that not only do we have localized distribution issues within the system, but we’ve also got issues with our provincial supplier and loss of supply to the city 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.”