A major cleanup effort is underway following Saturday’s fierce storm that left at least eight people dead and hundreds of thousands without power after it swept across southern Ontario and Quebec.
Environment Canada on Sunday issued another tornado watch for Quebec’s Eastern Townships 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, N.B. Most of the province is under a thunderstorm watch.
The storm damage has led the Ontario towns of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, and Clarence-Rockland, east of Ottawa, to declare states of emergency, while hundreds of thousands across both provinces remain without power as crews work to restore services.
A statement posted on the Township of Uxbridge’s website says there are widespread power outages and many closed roads due to downed trees and power lines.
Residents are being asked to stay home to allow municipal workers to focus on removing road hazards rather than manage traffic congestion.
Hydro providers, meanwhile, are warning that it could take days for some customers to get their power back.
“Between trees, branches, broken poles and wires down, it’s really a very, very messy, messy cleanup,” Hydro One spokesperson Tiziana Baccega Rosa said.
She said while it’s not unusual to have such high numbers of people temporarily without power — which for Hydro One stood at about 270,000 on Sunday morning — the extent of the damage, including the toppling of metal transmission towers in the Ottawa area, is notable.
Hydro Ottawa said that as of 9 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, it had cut the number of local outages from more than 1,000 to 575, but about 176,500 customers were still affected.
200 poles destroyed in Ottawa area
The utility could not say when most issues were likely to be resolved, noting that 200 hydro poles had been knocked out or destroyed.
“Damage is deep,” the utility said in a Twitter update on Sunday.
“The situation is complex with extensive damage to our infrastructure across the city to both transmission and distribution systems, and at this time, we are not able to provide estimated restoration times,” Hydro Ottawa said in an update on Sunday morning.
“Crews have worked overnight and will continue to do so over the coming days. At this time, we believe this will be a multi-day restoration effort. Power will be restored initially to large-scale outages, followed by smaller ones, keeping safety as the No. 1 priority.”
Hydro-Québec said that at the peak, the storm cut power to 550,000 customers from Gatineau to Quebec City, while as of about noon Sunday, there were some 370,000 customers still in the dark. Most of the power outages were in the Quebec City, Outaouais, Laurentians, Lanaudière and Montérégie regions.
A Hydro-Québec spokesperson said most people should have their power on later Sunday, starting with those in the hardest-hit regions.
Destructive winds of a ‘derecho’
The level of damage across the two provinces came in part from the nature of the storm, which looks to have been what is called a “derecho,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng.
“When they say derecho, it’s widespread, long-lived wind storms that are associated with rapidly moving thunderstorms, and that seems to be what we had yesterday,” he said. “Because when you look at the damage, that was widespread, it wasn’t just one track.”
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Hydro One is Ontario’s largest service provider for electricity and supplies power to Toronto Hydro, which on Sunday morning tweeted that it continues to deal with “multiple outages across the city.”
Customers heading to Toronto Hydro’s website were not able to get an update on what areas were still affected by outages as of late Sunday morning.
“We’re working on restoring our outage map and appreciate your ongoing patience,” the utility said on the website.
A spokesperson said about 15,000 customers were still without electricity, down from 110,000 who lost power during the storm.
Weather alert system kicks in
The storm carried winds strong enough to trigger the agency’s first use of the broadcast-interrupting weather alert system for a thunderstorm, Cheng said.
Trees and power lines were knocked down by ferocious winds in a system that first developed near Sarnia, Ont., and then moved west to the Ottawa area and Quebec. Environment Canada reported peak wind gusts of 120 km/h at the Ottawa International Airport. At one point, winds reached 132 km/h at the airport in Kitchener, Ont.
The Ontario fatalities from the storm include a 44-year-old man in Greater Madawaska, west of Ottawa; a woman in her 70s out for a walk in Brampton; a 30-year-old man struck by a tree in the Ganaraska Forest, east of Oshawa, Ont.,; and a 59-year-old man on a golf course in Ottawa. As well, one person was killed and two others were injured in their camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Brant County.
At an emergency news conference on Saturday night, the City of Ottawa’s head of emergency services, Kim Ayotte, was surprised by the storm’s scope.
“This one hit us hard, it hit us fast…. I was out at the airport earlier and I saw telephone posts knocked down, large trees uprooted, several hydro lines being split in half. It was incredible. The sheer area that was affected is like nothing I’ve seen in my memory.”
Officials in Ottawa say the cleanup from the storm could take several days.