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Ice storm: 1 million Quebec households without power, 459K in Montreal in the dark

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As hundreds of thousands of Montrealers were plunged into darkness Wednesday amid a major ice storm, Hydro-Quebec said it could take up to 36 hours for power to be restored in some areas.

Across Quebec, 1 million customers lost power as of 11 p.m., with the number of outages rising steadily by the hour since the afternoon.

In Montreal, more than 453,000 of the roughly 1 million Hydro-Quebec customers were without electricity by the late evening hours, accounting for just over 40 per cent of all clients on the island. The West Island is being hit the hardest by the power outages.

Several schools have also pre-emptively closed Thursday in and around Montreal due to the widespread power outages.

The Outaouais was hit even harder than Montreal, with more than 50 per cent of hydro customers in the dark. In the Montérégie, more than 194,000 households lost power. 

Downed tree at De Maisonneuve near Fort Street in downtown Montreal (photo: Mark Higden)

The freezing rain storm system started early in the day, sweeping across southern Quebec and coating large swaths of the region in slick ice. Several tree branches toppled over, crushing cars in some cases and falling in power lines.

Hydro-Quebec spokesperson Francis Labbé told CJAD 800 that roughly 300 crews were on the ground Wednesday night and are expected to work through the evening to restore power as fast as they can.

"I do believe that we will be able to restore much of the outages that we have in Montreal within, maybe, 24 to 36 hours. And I hope this is the longest time it will take. Hopefully, it will be faster than that," he said.

Hydro crews will be relocated to work on outages that have a greater number of affected customers, Labbé said. Quebec City is in the path of the storm as it tracks east of the island overnight.

Quebec's economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, said on Twitter he is following the situation closely with Public Safety Minister François Bonnardel. Both government officials are scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday at 9 a.m. in Quebec City to provide an update on the situation.

"The @hydroquebec teams are working hard. We are aware that this is not easy for man," Bonnardel said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, Hydro-Quebec officials will also hold their own news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday to provide an update.

As the storm pounded the city, Montreal police said they were flooded with emergency calls related to the weather and urged residents not to call 911 to report damage for insurance purposes.

However, "If a situation endangers safety or traffic, contact 911 immediately," they added.

The City of Montreal was also dealing with a large volume of calls to the 311 phone line. Residents were urged to contact the city online instead.

In downtown Montreal, several trees have been downed, including one at the corner of Fort St. and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, blocking the roadway. City workers were called to remove it.

A tree weighed down by ice hangs over a street in Ile Bizard (Source: Laureen Ferguson)

Environment Canada warned that 10 to 20 millimetres of freezing rain was expected to fall Wednesday, making surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots icy, slippery and hazardous. The weather warning ended around 10 p.m. Wednesday for Montreal, Laval, Vaudreuil, and the Valleyfield and Beauharnois areas.

In an interview Wednesday morning, City of Montreal spokesperson Philippe Sabourin said crews spread salt and rocks along the city's 6,000 kilometres of sidewalks, 4,000 kilometres of roads and 900 kilometres of bike paths before the storm on Wednesday morning.

"At this time of the year, the challenge of the city is to handle the cleaning and the winter operations," he said. "It's like a rollercoaster; yesterday it was spring, today it's winter again."

A tree falls on a car on Edouard-Montpetit close to Decarie in Montreal (photo: Peter Stauber)

He added that though salt and rocks will reduce surface slickness, people should still pay attention and proceed with caution on the city's streets.

"The outages are due to the weather cocktail," said Gabrielle Leblanc, another spokesperson for Hydro-Quebec.

"What causes outages is the mixture of precipitation and wind, which weighs down the vegetation. There can be branches and trees that fall on the lines."

If you see electrical wires on the ground, you’re urged to avoid the area and call 911.

Fallen tree branches block a street following an accumulation of ice rain in Montreal, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

As the weather system shifts to the eastern part of the province, more customers may be affected.

"The ice storm is expected to be over by the end of the day for western regions, but we see the storm moving towards Quebec City and the east, slowly but surely. Our teams will be ready to intervene if necessary," said Leblanc.

Environment Canada is calling for periods of rain ending near noon Thursday with a high of 9 C.

With files from The Canadian Press

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