Published May 24, 2022

More than 150,000 still without power after destructive Ontario storm

The storm resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people across the province

By Noushin Ziafati in Uxbridge, Ont., and Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Residents in some parts of Ontario could be waiting several days for power to be restored, a major hydro provider said Tuesday as crews worked to repair extensive damage caused by a deadly weekend storm that barreled across much of the province. 

Ten people died after Saturday afternoon's thunderstorm, which downed powerlines, destroyed property and felled thousands of trees. 

Provincial provider Hydro One said Tuesday afternoon that more than 142,000 customers were still without power, while Hydro Ottawa said it had 74,000 customers without service around midday. 

"We anticipate having everyone restored over the course of the next several days," Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa said in an interview.

Hydro One said the damage from the storm included more than 1,400 broken poles, 300 broken crossarms and nearly 200 damaged transformers as well as "countless trees."

In Uxbridge, Ont., east of Toronto, roof shingles and tree branches littered the streets while the roof of a neighbourhood church had been ripped off. Bricks could be seen strewn across the church yard while nearby, hydro crews worked on repairing damaged power lines. 

Sarah Reid, whose Uxbridge home was damaged by the storm, said the severity of the weather event, and the damage it brought, left her stunned. 

"It’s not ever going to be normal again," she said as she stood in her front yard, where much of the roof of a nearby church had landed. 

Reid said she didn't receive a cellphone alert about the storm but had heard some of the warning on the radio before it hit.  

"The sky went black. There was a great whooshing, roaring screaming howling. Suddenly there was a crash," she recalled. 

A tree snapped in her front yard, breaking the window she had been standing near, another smashed into her patio, tiles flew off the roof and debris crashed into her yard, she said. 

"I didn’t know what was happening. I thought oh it’s a big storm, there’s been big storms before but nothing like that," she said. 

Reid has been without power since Saturday.

Uxbridge, along with the communities of Clarence-Rockland and the Township of Greater Madawaska, east and west of Ottawa, declared states of emergencies after the storm. 

Earlier in the day, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, who is running for re-election as Ontario's premier, said his thoughts were with those affected by the storm. 

"What a tragedy, what happened over the weekend, with this storm, so widespread," he said Tuesday morning at a campaign stop. "I just want to give my prayers and thoughts to the families that lost loved ones. I also want to thank the utility workers that work their backs off, cancelled their long weekend."

Hydro Ottawa's chief executive said Monday that their distribution system had been "crushed," noting the 187 poles downed during the storm not only exceeds the number the city traditionally puts down in a year but also tops the number felled during the 1998 ice storm and 2018 tornado.

The lack of power prompted the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to close all schools and childcare centres on Tuesday due to ongoing safety concerns posed by the storm, saying in a notice to parents that about half of their schools were without power.

Across the provincial boundary, Hydro-Quebec reported about 1,600 outages affecting more than 120,000 customers — mainly in the Laurentians, where 69,495 customers were still without power, along with the Outaouais and Lanaudière regions, as of midday Tuesday. 

Joanna Eyquem, managing director of climate-resilient infrastructure for the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said efforts to slow climate change mean we are becoming more reliant on electricity and it is more important than ever to safeguard the power grid against major breakdowns, including from storms.

“We can't have everything kind of falling apart because we have power outages as well because it just makes us less resilient,” she said.

Eyquem said ensuring transmission lines are not at risk of being hit by falling trees or wayward branches is one relatively easy measure to take, but she also noted there is no requirement in Canada for utilities to undertake a climate risk assessment.

Some have, such as Toronto Hydro, but she said power companies in the United Kingdom have to provide reports on what they are doing to adapt to a changing climate.

Meteorologists have dubbed Saturday's storm a derecho – a widespread, long-lived windstorm associated with rapidly moving thunderstorms.

Derechos are uncommon in Canada but with hotter weather expected in the years to come, these kinds of storms are likely to become more frequent, said Eyquem.

- with files from John Chidley-Hill

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.

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