Hydro-Quebec making progress in restoring power — but it's slow

The wintry mess we've seen in southwestern Quebec since the start of the workweek has led to widespread power outages, and crews have been scrambling to keep on top of them.

As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, about  143,000 Hydro-Quebec customers across the Montreal area were without power — the vast majority of them have been in Laval and points north.

Click here for the latest updates from Hydro-Quebec on power outages.

A storm system moved into the area on Sunday has brought a wintry mix of precipitation, mainly to Laval, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière regions. Many people in those areas lost their power on Monday afternoon, as a prolonged blast of freezing rain started to hit those areas — knocking tree branches down and coating power lines.

"Freezing rain is one of the worst weather events that we can have for an electric grid because it is heavy, because it makes branches break, so it's a lot of work for our teams," said Hydro-Quebec spokesperson Maxence Huard-Lefebvre.

Hydro-Quebec says this isn't one large power failure, it's hundreds upon hundreds of little ones. That means crews have to identify the source of the problem — usually a downed power line caused by ice or a fallen tree branch — fix it, and then repeat the process hundreds of times before everyone is back online.

"We have 360 crews on site so it means about 700 people on site to restore power as fast as possible," said Huard-Lefebvre.

Some of those crews have been brought in from New Brunswick and Vermont to help with the mammoth job.

Driving treacherous

With many people having had their fill of the winter season, they've already switched to their summer tires.

That, combined with the snow and icy patches in many places has led to a number of car crashes and pileups.

Just before noon Tuesday, there was an eight-vehicle pileup on Highway 20 west near the Ville St. Pierre interchange. No one was hurt, but that slowed westbound traffic to the West Island to a crawl for a time, as Transport Quebec officials closed a portion of the road to clean up.

Meanwhile, an eight-vehicle pileup on Highway 640 near Terrebonne earlier in the morning sent several people to hospital.

Power won't be back before Wednesday: Guilbault

Quebec's public security minister says most of the tens of thousands of Hydro customers currently in the dark won't have electricity restored before Wednesday morning.

Genevieve Guilbault told reporters Tuesday in Quebec City that winds and snow are creating problems for Hydro-Quebec crews on the ground and they won't be able to complete the repairs.

"There are heavy winds, and the weather isn't amenable for this kind of work, so the vast majority should get power back early Wednesday,'' Guilbault said.

Earlier she had expressed optimism that most people would not have to spend a second night without power.

Meanwhile, Premier François Legault called on citizens to exercise caution and get in touch with their towns if they needed a place to stay. "There are many families in Quebec who risk spending a second night without electricity, so I'm asking everyone to be prudent,'' Legault said.

Check on your neighbors, Laval officials say

City officials in Laval said Tuesday that police were patrolling the city as phone service was down in some neighborhoods. Sylvain Gariepy, operations chief for the Laval fire department, said firefighters would be going door-to-door on Tuesday to check on seniors and those most vulnerable.

Laval Mayor Marc Demers urged families and neighbors to look out for one another. "If you have members of your family — parents, brothers, sisters — who are in a zone that's lacking electricity, check in on their situation to make sure we're not forgetting someone in distress,'' Demers said.

Gariepy urged people not to use outdoor cooking implements inside after a family of four had to be treated in hospital after using the barbecue inside their home. In a second case, an adult male was transported to hospital. Firefighters reported high levels of carbon monoxide inside both homes.

The City of Laval has opened up two community centres to welcome residents needing a warm place to charge phones and in some cases, have a shower. Those warming shelters are at 6500 Arthur Sauvé and 455 Lausanne St.

Numerous schools were closed in the region due to the lack of electricity.

Canada Post also alerted customers in the greater Montreal area that some people may not receive their mail on Tuesday because of the weather.

After the snow, a warming trend

For those of you reading this, wondering when things will finally start to warm up, a warm up is most definitely coming — but it might take a few days before springlike weather starts to take hold.

Wednesday will see temperatures climb well above zero — to 4°C, under mainly cloudy skies.

There will be at least one more cold night, and one more chilly day on Thursday before temperatures finally start reaching normal values.

By Friday, we're expecting a high of 10°C, with some rain. By the weekend, however, we're expecting sunshine, and highs both days around 11°C.

The Canadian Press and CTV Montreal contributed to this report.