Ont. and Que. scramble to recover from thunderstorm that left at least 8 dead

A massive thunderstorm kicked off the May long weekend in southern Ontario and Quebec, killing at least eight people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power, with communities now scrambling to deal with the aftermath.

Clean-up efforts continued Sunday as crews grappled with a trail of destruction that left fallen trees, downed power lines and battered neighbourhoods.

Ottawa was one of the regions struck particularly hard by the storm, with clean-up projected to take up to four days in some regions.

“This has been a very, very difficult 24-hour period,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a press conference Sunday afternoon. “We ask you to remain positive despite the challenges.

“We’ve got through it before, we’ll get through it again.” 

After the storm cleared up in the west at Golden Horseshoe, the torrent of rain, wind and thunder hit the eastern regions of Ottawa and southern Quebec.

Eight reported dead

Police say seven deaths in Ontario were caused by falling trees as strong winds created widespread damage, while a woman in Quebec died when a boat she was in capsized in the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers.

Three of the deaths were confirmed on Sunday afternoon. Durham emergency crews discovered a man in Ganaraska Forest who had been struck by a fallen tree during the storm. He died on the scene.

A woman in Port Hope, Ont., was also struck by a falling tree and died at the scene, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said.

Another woman died after a tree fell at a home in her North Kawartha Township, Ont., OPP confirmed.

The other Ontario fatalities from the storm who died Saturday include a 44-year-old man in Greater Madawaska west of Ottawa, a woman in her 70s out for a walk in Brampton, a 59-year-old man on a golf course in Ottawa, and one person killed in their camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Waterloo Region.

Trees, power lines down

The city of Ottawa says there have been multiple reports of fallen trees littering roads and sidewalks, along with several damaged houses. Hydro Ottawa says more than 200 hydro poles have been damaged by the storm.

Joseph Muglia, director of system operations and grid automation, explained Sunday that while hydro poles can sometimes be fixed temporarily depending on the circumstances, from what he’s seen of the damage from the storm, the vast majority of the poles cannot be patched up.

“The poles need to be replaced, they can’t be fixed,” he said, adding that they have already ordered in replacement poles, and don’t anticipate any supply chain issues.

"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.

While it’s hard to pinpoint when specific outages will be resolved, Muglia estimated that it will likely take three to four days to completely restore power across the city.

“When you have a widespread and type of event like this where you have a lot of trees down […] all of those circuits have to be inspected,” he said. “We do have to keep safety in mind when we’re bringing the lines back up.”

Alain Gonthier, director of infrastructure services with the city of Ottawa, added Sunday that recovery efforts will be continuing long after the power is back on, projecting that it will “take a few weeks to get through all of the cleanup efforts.”

Muglia said that they have mobilized all of their crews to work on restoring the power, and have contractors coming in from other provinces to help.

“The restoration efforts are going well,” he said. “It’s frustrating, I know, that the number hasn’t started to drop […] but we expect that to start happening soon.” 

Hydro Quebec announced on Sunday morning that more than 361 crews have been dispatched to impacted communities to restore service, but they too did not offer an estimated restoration time.

The Township of Uxbridge, Ont. declared a local state of emergency after the storm caused significant damage to the community.

A statement posted on the township'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 managing traffic congestion.

On Sunday, the town also banned all outdoor fires and announced that Township Emergency responders are deployed to assist with storm damage.

The eastern Ontario community of Clarence-Rockland also issued a state of emergency.

As of Sunday evening, Hydro One, which provides power to residents in rural parts of Ontario, reported that 226,000 customers were without power.

In a message to customers earlier on Sunday, the company said that while additional resources have been called in to assist with power restoration, “it will take several days to restore all customers due to significant damage.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson stated Sunday that the main purpose of a state of emergency is to secure resources faster, and that they have all the resources they need.

“There is no need at this point for a state of emergency to be declared,” he said.

Water treatment

Ottawa’s sewage treatment plant, the Robert O. Pickford Environmental Centre, was affected in the storm and lost power, officials revealed. It ran on generators until it was able to be hooked back up to the grid.

Tammy Rose, general manager of infrastructure and water services, confirmed Sunday afternoon that power had finally been restored.

There were no structural damages to the wastewater treatment plant, but while the plant wasn’t connected to the grid, some of its functioning was impacted.

The plant sends treated wastewater to the Ottawa River, and Rose noted that they’ve “seen a very slow degradation in water quality,” due to the power outage.

She added that the city is required to notify downstream users and the provincial regulator.

Recovery efforts

The City of Ottawa has set up numerous emergency respite centres that include charging stations for residents impacted by the storm

“The respite centers are there to provide air conditioning, electrical outlets … and just a gathering spot because hydro estimates it could be two to three days until everyone has their power back up. So we ask for people's patience,” Watson told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

Some of the respite centres are also offering food. Watson said Sunday afternoon that a list of the respite centres would be available on the city’s website.

He said that clean-up efforts are underway with the city’s first priority to get roads designated emergency routes for fire, police and ambulances cleaned up but that it could take several days before the city is up and running again.

In areas that have more damage, local command centres are being set up, and will likely be active by Monday morning, officials said. 

“You can provide much needed help by checking in with your neighours, family and friends and those who are vulnerable,” Watson said.

He urged residents to stay home if they are able, as more traffic on the streets could slow down the clean-up efforts.

“I want to express my thanks to all city crews,” he said. These crews are working tirelessly.” 

There is some more bad weather in the forecast for some areas impacted by the storm, however.

Environment Canada has issued a warning of potential thunderstorms in southern Quebec on Sunday evening with wind gusts of approximately 40 kilometres an hour.

With files from CTV News Toronto, CTV News Ottawa and The Canadian Press