Quebec Storm: Electricity should return to most affected homes in a day, says premier

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, and Hydro Quebec President and CEO Eric Martel update news media on the ongoing power outages in the province during a briefing in Montreal, Saturday, November 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Hydro Quebec President and CEO Eric Martel said the damage was extensive, but the repair work is underway after the massive windstorm Friday.

J'étais ce matin à la Salle des mesures d'urgence d'Hydro-Québec.
Il reste 425 000 résidences sans courant.
Donc, plus de la moitié des pannes ont été corrigées.
On estime que la grande majorité des Québécois retrouveront le courant d'ici dimanche soir. pic.twitter.com/QQCGzSpJz1

— François Legault (@francoislegault) November 2, 2019

As of Saturday evening Hydro Quebec said roughly 300,000 homes were still without power. Legault said the vast majority of those would regain electricity by Sunday night. 

"We still have three places where it could go longer," he said noting that the Richelieu, Lanaudiere and Beauce regions may be without power for longer.

We’re doing our best to restore service quickly. Over 1000 line workers are deployed throughout the province. We hope to have power back - for most homes - by end of day Sunday. But those with heavier damage or in hard to reach areas may have to wait until early next week.

— Hydro-Québec (@hydroquebec) November 2, 2019

"We have a lot of work to do there, and we're working fulltime to get everybody back their electricity," the premier said. "We'll make sure that we open some centres to receive the people, who are not able to find somebody in their neighbourhood or in their family where they can go."

Legault compared the windstorm to the ice storm in terms of citizens affected by the storm but added that solutions will come much faster than they did in 1998.

"We were talking at the peak yesterday of 990,000 houses without electricity," he said. "We haven't seen that since 1998... Solutions will be a lot faster. We're not talking about weeks. We're talking about days."

Martel added that the high voltage transmission system has not been affected as it was in 1998, only the distribution system.

On the Island of Montreal Hydro Quebec estimates about 15,000 customers are still without power, from heavy winds, two-thirds of them on the West Island. This is Sunnyside Ave in Pointe-Claire. @CTVMontreal pic.twitter.com/kb6jpKWU03

— Billy Shields (@billyshields) November 2, 2019

The main challenge, Martel said, was the massive scale and scope of the damage.

"The challenges we're facing is, first of all, it's all across the province," he said. "It's not just a region where we can narrow it down, so we have people everywhere right now to bring the situation back,"

Martel said around 2,500 trees have fallen on wires all over the province, 300 lines are down and about 250 hydro poles need to be reconstructed.

"All our people are treating this as a major emergency in Hydro Quebec with a lot of intensity right now," said Martel.

Martel said a team is working within Hydro-Quebec to plan and adapt for similar storms that are happening more often.

Measures to face climate change are one of our priorities. To reduce disruptions, we have put in place several already: new methods of vegetation control near the lines, remote control of protection equipment to fix lines more quickly, service restoration automation, etc.

— Hydro-Québec (@hydroquebec) November 2, 2019

Legault admitted that the increasing frequency of major storms is likely linked to climate change.

"I can see that we have more of these situations, so I guess they must be linked with climate changes," he said. "We cannot prove that, but we see that we have more of this happening in the last few years." 

Cleaing up in West Island

In the West Island, which was hit particularly badly by the storm, crews worked throughout Saturday to restore power and clear debris. On Sunnyside Ave. power was restored around 4:00 p.m. on Friday but power wires were knocked into the middle of the street. 

"We stayed away from the wires, we made sure the neighbours stayed away," said resident John Land. 

Hydro Quebec spokesperson Serge Abergel said there was minimal danger in the area. 

"The difference in this street is these are low-tension lines, they're all covered in plastic, there's no live wires for anybody to touch," he said. 

Two-thirds of the outages in Montreal occurred in the West Island. In Pierrefonds, a Hydro pole was knocked in half, dumping a transformer into Paul Upsypchuk's back yard. He said he and his wife spent the night huddled together.

"Fortunately we have a lot of blankets," he said. 

Crews were able to reroute power from the the pole 20 hours later but by morning a tree hanging over the electric lines still needed to be clear.

Home improvement specialist Jon Eakes said precautions can be taken in advance of wind storms.

"Make sure you have extra water available in the house so you're not just suddenly thirsty waiting this out," he said. "Mkae sure you have extra blankets available. All these kinds of emergency things to let you sort of sneak through the problem."