Quebec Storm: situation is different from the ice storm, officials say

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MONTREAL - As high winds raged across Quebec on Friday, knocking out power, uprooting trees and injuring several people, authorities urged that the situation was not comparable to the ice storm.

While the number of people who lack power is comparable to the famed 1998 storm--almost one million were without power on Friday, compared with 1.4 million during the ice storm--the nature of those outages is not the same, according to Jonathan Julien, Quebec minister of Energy.

"There are comparisons nonetheless [between the ice storm and Friday's storm] because we're talking about an important number of people affected," he told reporters. "But these are two situations of a completely different nature."

During the ice storm, frozen rain coated the steel structures responsible for holding heavy-duty cables that transport power long distances--ice also coated the cables themselves. Overburdened and weakened by strong winds, they crumpled. The province's electrical transport network--accountable for delivering power between dams and power stations to cities and regions--failed, the minister said.

"If you remember, it was the big structures that fell and were much heavier, much more difficult to re-establish," he said.

But on Friday, winds interrupted power lines in people's backyards (the distribution network), not along major power arteries (the transport network), the minister said. Broken trees crashed into low-lying wires but large metal electrical support structures withstood the winds. 

At a press conference on Friday, Hydro-Quebec officials said the distribution network was easier to fix than the transport network. Wooden poles knocked over by the wind, or broken by falling trees, could be re-erected swiftly--though it would still take several days to amend the more than 2000 power outages across the province, officials added.

"It's the network at the end of the line [that is interrupted]," The minister said. "It is a major impact, yes many people were affected, and naturally, Hydro-Quebec has teams working to re-establish it, and it could take several days in some cases. 

As many as 35 people died during the ice storm, and almost 1000 were injured. Millions were without power for weeks, in some cases.

One person died on Friday, after being struck by a falling tree in Bromont. Another, in Montreal, sustained serious injuries after bricks fell off a structure, hitting him in the head, a Montreal fire department spokesperson said.