A powerful thunderstorm ripped through the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec over the weekend claiming the lives of at least nine people and leaving the electricity grid in shambles. Hundreds of thousands of people remain without power and authorities say repairs to the electricity grid will take days to complete even with crews working around the clock.
Ontario Hydro, a publicly owned electricity utility, said in a letter to Ottawa’s mayor that the damage from the storm is “simply beyond comprehension.”
“This event is significantly worse than both the ice storm of 1998 and the tornadoes of 2018. This level of damage to our distribution system is simply beyond comprehension,” the utility said.
The storm lasted only a few hours but broke numerous electricity poles, toppled towers, uprooted trees and ripped shingles and siding off homes.
The storm left a path of destruction between the cities of Sarnia and Ottawa, a distance of some 679 kilometers (422 miles) and stretched into the neighboring province of Quebec where hundreds of thousands still remain without power.
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The death toll remains unclear, however at least seven people lost their lives to falling trees, another was killed by a falling branch on Sunday and a woman was killed when the boat she was in capsized on the Ottawa river.
The executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project, David Sills, said at its peak the storm delivered wind speeds as high as 132 kilometers (82 miles) an hour.
Uxbridge, a town just north of Toronto, and the town of Clarence-Rockland, just east of Ottawa, have declared local states of emergency due to widespread damage.
Sills says teams have been dispatched to the areas and suspects that they may have been hit by tornadoes or elevated winds.
Canada’s capital of Ottawa hit hard
The director of system operation and grid automation for Hydro Ottawa, Joseph Muglia, told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that crews from Kingston, Ontario and from the neighboring province of New Brunswick have been dispatched to assist in restoring power to the Capital Region.
“The outages that we’re seeing now are Hydro Ottawa outages,” he said, noting that more than 200 electricity poles were knocked down around the capitol adding that it won’t be until later this week that power will be restored to several areas.
So far, the utility has been successful in restoring power to some 70,000 people.
Muglia said that he expects to make “significant strides” between Monday and Tuesday this week saying “Although the customer count is high, it’s come significantly from where it was.”
Ottawa’s mayor, Jim Watson, said the city is attempting to prioritize restoring power to the region’s most vulnerable residents.
“Those people who are economically challenged, live in affordable housing, who don’t have the luxury of going out and getting all new groceries, because obviously their groceries have gone to waste because of lack of power,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada’s state-funded news outlet.
The weekend’s storm had a much greater impact on the region than an outbreak of tornadoes in 2018. Watson said while the 2018 tornadoes that struck the Ottawa region were bad they were confined to a specific area. This weekend’s storm “went basically all across the city, in rural Ottawa, suburban Ottawa, downtown Ottawa,” he said.