By Jacob Serebrin
Another 50,000 Hydro-Quebec customers should see their power restored by the end of day on Sunday, the utility said while warning some of its remaining repairs to lines damaged by last week’s deadly ice storm may not be completed until Tuesday.
About 44,200 Hydro-Quebec clients were without power around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, down from 114,000 earlier in the day, following Wednesday’s storm that covered trees and branches in a coat of ice that brought many to the ground.
Those customers in the dark include approximately 29,000 in Montreal, down from 80,000, according to the company’s website.
Regis Tellier, the utility’s vice-president of operations and maintenance, told reporters Sunday morning that power has been restored to more than 90 per cent of the more than one million customers who lost electricity – including 180,000 who saw the lights come back on Saturday.
“The goal is to reconnect 95 per cent today, by the end of the day, and then on Monday, almost all the remaining customers,” he said.
But Tellier said some complex cases won’t be resolved until Tuesday.
As his residents face the possibility of a fifth day without electricity, the mayor of one particularly hard-hit Montreal suburb said it’s time for Hydro-Quebec to start taking steps to prevent similar outages in the future.
Georges Bourelle, the mayor of Beaconsfield on Montreal Island, said 60 per cent of his city’s 20,000 residents were still without power as of Saturday, including him.
“We can expect that this is not an isolated incident, it’s going to continue to happen in the future and perhaps even more often than it has in the past,” he said in an interview Sunday.
Beaconsfield’s power lines are above ground, Bourelle said, adding the storm didn’t cause as many outages in areas where such infrastructure is buried.
“The weak link is the distribution system which is fragile and certainly exposed to a lot of extreme weather,” Bourelle said. “I think burying lines is probably the ideal solution in terms of preventing power outages.”
Bourelle said he knows such a move would be an expensive proposition, but not acting has an economic cost: grocery stores are losing thousands of dollars as food spoils, while repairs to the power grid are costing Hydro-Quebec itself.
“People are angry, they’re frustrated, the fuses are shortening very quickly and, particularly, this is Easter Sunday, so just imagine, gatherings of family and things like that are not going to take place because they can’t cook,” he said.
Tellier said most of Quebec’s remaining outages affect only a handful of customers, noting hydro workers are reconnecting fewer customers even though they’re working at the same pace.
“It’s the same effort, but it’s few customers, sometimes it’s five, 10 customers,” he said.
Tellier said he witnessed just such an example on Saturday when he went to see some crews at work. At one specific outage in Baie-D’Urfe, Que., an on-island suburb of Montreal, two crews with two cranes were needed to remove branches on a line and reconnect two homes.
He said crews often have to secure branches to prevent them from falling on people as they work.
Tellier said that to his knowledge, all seniors residences and long-term care homes that lost power have now been reconnected.
The Red Cross said its eight emergency shelters in Montreal will remain open Sunday night for those who are still without power.
The organization said 102 people stayed in the shelters on Saturday night.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said in a post on Twitter that the shelters will stay open as long as necessary.
The City of Montreal has also opened some libraries and cultural centres for people who need to recharge electronic devices or warm up.
Plante is also warning people to be careful in city parks, some of which are partially closed.
“Avoid walking under trees and on uncleared paths,” Plante wrote. “We still need several days to collect, transport and recover more than tens of thousands of trees and fallen branches.”
Officials are also warning people not to use fuel-burning appliances inside after a number of reports of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Montreal public health said Sunday that 180 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning have been reported at emergency rooms in the city since Wednesday, including more than 50 reported since Saturday.
No deaths have been reported on the Island of Montreal, the agency said, adding that workers are going door-to-door in areas where electricity has not yet been restored to encourage people to be careful.
The province has announced grocery stores in particularly affected regions can remain open on Easter Sunday – a statutory holiday – to help residents running low on food after the blackout. Those regions include Montreal, Monteregie, Laval, Outaouais, Laurentides and Lanaudiere.
The storm and its aftermath have been linked to three deaths, including that of a 75-year-old Quebec man who died from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator in his garage. Two other men – one in Ontario and one in Quebec – were killed after being struck by branches.
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