Hydro-Quebec crews making headway in aftermath of fierce autumn storm

MONTREAL -- Hydro-Quebec was making steady progress restoring power to tens of thousands of customers on Sunday, and maintained hope the vast majority of users would be reconnected by the end of the day.

Crews were working around the clock but repair work was proving complicated in more remote areas, and some customers might remain without hydro for days, the utility said.

Spokesman Francis Labbe said close to 90 per cent of those who'd lost power during Friday's punishing autumn storm were back online.

"We are confident that we'll have most of the affected customers back by the end of the day," Labbe said. "But obviously, some people will have to wait until Monday to get electricity back and maybe longer depending on the situation."

Crews have been fixing broken electrical poles and downed lines from the heavy rain and powerful winds of more than 100 kilometres an hour.

"We're getting close to places where the population is more isolated, so accessing the outages is more complicated, and sometimes the work we have to do before we even start to repair the line is major," Labbe said. "For example, our crews often have to act as lumberjacks before they can even repair the line -- lots of branches and trees are down."

The utility said in some areas entire segments of the system need to be rebuilt, while in others transformers and poles need to be replaced, with equipment being shipped from across the province.

Labbe noted that broken poles can take between five and seven hours to replace.

The utility says nearly 1,200 employees, including 700 line workers, were on the ground and reinforcements have arrived from Michigan, Ontario and the Maritimes. Labbe said those available to help from elsewhere were limited since their own regions were also dealing with outages.

As of 3 p.m. Sunday, just under 119,000 Quebec clients remained without power --a number that has steadily dropped since its peak on Friday, when nearly one million clients were plunged into darkness.

The outages were mainly in the Monteregie area south of Montreal, the Eastern Townships area, the Laurentians and Lanaudiere sectors north of Montreal, and Central Quebec.

At an afternoon briefing, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonatan Julien said if those numbers appeared to be slowing down, it was because crews are working on areas with fewer people.

"It's not less work, but the result is less convincing in terms of number of customers being reconnected," Julien told reporters in Quebec City.

Julien also encouraged people to be safe and not use outdoor barbecues inside their homes after reports of several cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"I know after 48 hours, it's getting to be long, but we're asking people to be patient and please not to put your welfare in peril," Julien said.

Friday's storm claimed at least one life in Quebec.

Police in Bromont, Que., 85 kilometres east of Montreal, said a 63-year-old man was killed by a falling tree outside his home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2019.