Storm Ontario: many residents still without power

Sarah Reid stood in her front yard surrounded by fallen bricks, branches and shingles on Tuesday as she surveyed the damage from a deadly weekend storm that swept through much of Ontario, leaving many residents still waiting for power to be restored.

The woman in Uxbridge, Ontario, has been without water since Saturday, her beloved garden destroyed and her home damaged.

“It will never go back to normal,” she said, standing in her yard where much of the roof of a nearby church had ended up.

Reid said she had not received a cell phone warning about the storm, but heard some of the warning on the radio shortly before it hit.

“The sky went black. There was a tremendous whooshing, roaring, screaming, crying. Suddenly there was a crash,” she recalls.

A tree snapped in her front yard and broke the window she had been standing by. Another slammed into her patio, as the wind caused tiles to fly off the roof and dump debris into her yard.

“I didn’t know what was happening. I thought, ‘oh, it’s a big storm.’ There have been big storms before, but nothing like that,” she said.

Uxbridge, along with the communities of Clarence-Rockland and the Township of Greater Madawaska, east and west of Ottawa, have declared a state of emergency following the storm. At least ten people were killed in the storm in Ontario and Quebec on Saturday.

Down the street from Reid’s house, rocks from the nearby church lay on the ground, while uprooted trees could be seen all over the area.

The area around the historic Uxbridge railway station was particularly hard hit. A house nearby that had been taped up and appeared to be ripped from its foundation. The backyard of another house was a sea of ​​fallen trees on Tuesday, and a team worked to clean up the mess.

Scott Crone watched as contractors repaired the roof of his beloved childhood home in the hard-hit neighborhood.

“There’s a tree on my garage and my whole house is tilted right now,” said Crone, whose family has been staying with friends and relatives for the past few days.

“We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into (this house) for the past 25 years…it’s heartbreaking.”

In Uxbridge and parts of Ontario where the storm left its mark, crews were busy clearing trees from roads, repairing power lines and repairing damaged property.

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 by noon.

“We expect everyone to be recovered in the coming days,” Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa said in an interview.

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

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said “most” customers who are still without power should have service restored within the next two to three days. But he warned that it will take several more weeks before the storm damage is completely cleaned up.

Watson said people should stay home if possible to keep the roads clear and told onlookers who want to take pictures of some of the most severely damaged areas to stay away. No one should stand in the way of “storm tourists,” he said.

Joseph Muglia, director of systems operations and grid automation for Hydro Ottawa, said damage in Ottawa is “catastrophic” with three times as many hydropiles destroyed by the storm, compared to the 80 poles destroyed by tornadoes in 2018.

“This level of infrastructure replacement would usually take about six months,” he said. “We’ll run it in a few days.”

Muglia said a handful of individual customers may not be back on the grid this week due to damage to their direct lines, but could not say how many or when they would be repaired.

A 2019 climate vulnerability study conducted for Hydro Ottawa warned that storms with wind speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour posed an extremely high risk to the city’s power grid.

Hydro personnel said north-south power lines were “particularly vulnerable” to high winds, and that played out in real time on Saturday as many succumbed and toppled along multiple arteries in the city, many of which will remain closed Tuesday.

Muglia said such risk assessments are a mainstay of Hydro Ottawa’s capital planning.

“We’re definitely always looking for alternatives to our poles, to our infrastructure, and looking at more robust equipment,” he said. “But it’s a balance, it’s a very delicate balance between trying to storm hard, but also providing the right equipment for what it’s intended for, and the environment it’s intended for.”

Joanna Eyquem, general manager of climate resilient infrastructure for the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said efforts to slow climate change are making us more dependent on electricity and it is more important than ever to protect the power grid from major disruptions.

“We can’t make everything fall apart because we also have power outages, because it just makes us less resilient,” she said.

Eyquem said it’s a relatively easy measure to ensure transmission lines aren’t hit by falling trees or wayward branches, but she also noted that utilities in Canada are not required to conduct a climate risk assessment. Some have, but she said energy companies in the UK must provide reports on what they are doing to adapt to a changing climate.

Meteorologists have termed Saturday’s storm a derecho — a widespread, long-lived storm accompanied by fast-moving thunderstorms.

Derechos are uncommon in Canada, but with warmer weather expected in the coming years, these types of storms are likely to become more frequent, Eyquem said.

Saturday’s storm triggered a warning on the National Public Alerting System, a decision made by an Environment Canada spokeswoman based on specific criteria, including a tornado warning or severe thunderstorms with gusts of more than 80 miles per hour.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued by Environment Canada at 11:08 a.m. Saturday morning through normal channels, but not through the Alert Ready system.

Winds in Saturday’s storm hit more than 80 miles per hour in Kitchener, Ont. At lunchtime and at 12:30 p.m., Environment Canada meteorologists sent the severe thunderstorm warning through the Alert Ready system. It was repeated in other areas for the next six hours as the storm moved east.

– with files by John Chidley-Hill

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

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