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Death toll from storm hits 10 as Ontario, Quebec communities survey damage

Hydro poles broken, towers toppled
Residents and community members gather to look at a tree that was destroyed during a major storm in Ottawa on Saturday, May 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

As the death toll related to the powerful storm that swept Ontario and Quebec on Saturday reached 10 on Monday, some of the hardest-hit communities were still working to take stock of the damage.

“It’s probably easier for us to count the homes that have no damage, than the ones that have damage,” said Clarence-Rockland fire chief Pierre Voisine, while surveying wreckage in nearby Hammond, Ont. on Monday.

The region was hit hard enough by the storm to leave some homes reduced to twisted piles of timber, while downed power lines and broken telephone polls are still blocking streets strewn with debris from uprooted trees and the wreckage of buildings.

The scale of the destruction prompted the community, along with the town of Uxbridge, Ont. east of Toronto, to declare a state of emergency.

Hammond residenxt Mijanou Guibord felt the devastation first-hand when the house she bought brand-new in December was destroyed by the high winds.

“I was sitting in the living room with my dog — he is a PTSD dog I got to help me after my house before was destroyed by fire — and I saw a red tin roof flying. I grabbed him by the neck and we ran down stairs,” said Guibord on Monday as she looked on at what remained of her home.

“All the windows were smashed in. I yelled out ‘help me’ from the basement. My neighbour kicked the doors in. The whole house was demolished. My car is still in there.”

Dominic Couture, the neighbour who came to Guibord’s rescue, said that while his house was only somewhat hit with a large dent on the side, the pickup truck he finished paying off four months ago was crushed.

“My truck was parked in the front of the house and I think it flew into the back,” he said. “It’s a Dodge Ram and it is demolished.”

The level of destruction in the area is underscoring how long some of the recovery efforts will take, as hydro providers warn that it could still be days before power is fully restored.

Hydro One was reporting about 185,000 customers were still without power As of mid-afternoon Monday, though service had been restored to more than 380,000 customers.

Across the provincial border, Hydro-Québec had around 1,500 outages affecting just over 200,000 customers.

READ MORE: At least 5 dead, thousands without power after storm tears through Ontario, Quebec

Provincial Energy Minister Jonatan Julien held a last-minute news conference Monday morning, saying the goal is to re-establish power to 80 per cent of residents before the end of the day.

Some residents, however, expressed frustration as to how the provider has communicated the restoration plan.

Marie-Eve Cloutier, a pregnant woman who lives in Québec City, said she spent 25 hours without electricity and was in a constant state of anxiety wondering when power might come back.

She said Hydro-Québec’s website indicated the restoration in her area was a ‘work in progress’ leading her to believe issues would be resolved more quickly than they were.

“It’s not their fault that there’s no electricity, or that the work to restore it takes more than 24 hours,” Cloutier said on Monday. “It’s the lack of communication that was bad.”

Hydro Ottawa said it had restored power to more than 70,000 customers as of mid-morning Monday, while an estimated 110,000 customers were still without power.

The utility said the damage is significantly worse than the 1998 Ice Storm and the tornadoes of 2018, adding it has brought in crews from as far as the Toronto area and New Brunswick to assist in repairs.

“The level of damage to our distribution system is simply beyond comprehension,” Hydro Ottawa said on Twitter Monday. “We’re managing this from a whole of city perspective given that no single area of the City is unaffected in some manner.”

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board announced all schools and child-care centres would be closed on Tuesday due to ongoing safety concerns posed by the storm.

“Approximately half of our schools are without power at this time and municipal officials are urging residents to stay off city streets as they attempt to stabilize roadways and traffic lights,” the board said in a notice to parents.

The storm tore through southern Ontario and Quebec in a matter of hours, breaking hydro poles and toppling towers, uprooting trees, and ripping shingles and siding off houses.

While Environment and Climate Change Canada sent out an alert warning people of the storm, the fast-moving system caught many off-guard.

The total death toll from Saturday’s storm is still unclear, but police in Ontario have reported eight people killed by falling trees in locations across the province during the storm Saturday, and a ninth killed by a falling tree branch during the aftermath on Sunday.

A 10th person died Saturday when the boat she was in capsized on the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers, Que.

The latest victim was confirmed Monday by Peterborough Police, who said a 61-year-old Lakefield man died during the storm from a falling tree.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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