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At least nine dead, thousands without power after storm

Nine killed in severe storm

UPDATE: 5:20 p.m.

Emergency crews rushed to restore power and clear roads on Sunday a day after a deadly and destructive storm swept across southern Ontario and Quebec, though officials cautioned that some of the outages could take days to resolve.

The true human toll of Saturday's storm is still unclear, but police in Ontario reported seven people killed by falling trees in locations across the province during the storm Saturday, and an eighth killed by a falling tree branch in the storm's aftermath on Sunday.

Police reports on the various deaths suggest victims were doing everything from camping to playing golf to taking weekend strolls when they were killed.

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

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.

Several people reported their backyard trampolines were tossed around like feathers, taking out fences like dominoes and landing many houses away. Others are facing extensive home repairs as trees crashed through roofs and windows.

Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng said the storm measured winds up to 132 kilometres an hour, marking the first time a thunderstorm was severe enough to trigger an emergency alert broadcast.

Cheng said the storm itself looks to have been what is called a derecho.

"When they say derecho, it's widespread, long-lived wind storms that are associated with rapidly moving thunderstorms, and that seems to be what we had yesterday," he said. "Because when you look at the damage, that was widespread, it wasn't just one track."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said at a news conference late Sunday afternoon that the storm's impact is affecting every corner of his city.

"Yesterday's storm was fast and violent," he said. "It ravaged really the entire city."

And while he sympathized with residents struggling to cope without power, he warned they may not see it restored for three or four more days.

"This has been a very, very difficult 24-hour period," he said. "We don't have clear sight as to when everyone will get their power back."

Watson said the city didn't need to declare a state of emergency because that mainly allows it to override procurement processes and that's not necessary right now.

But widespread damage did compel the Ontario towns of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, and Clarence-Rockland, east of Ottawa, to declare states of emergency.

Uxbridge Mayor Dave Barton said the downtown core sustained significant damage, including to several residential buildings and a brewery. But he said power outages and downed phone lines are causing the most distress.

Internet networks and cellular service were down in many locations.

The damage to the power grid is extensive and complicated, hydro utilities reported Sunday.

"Between trees, branches, broken poles and wires down, it's really a very very messy messy cleanup," said Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa.

By Sunday evening, Hydro One was still reporting 245,000 customers without power, down only slightly from 260,000 earlier in the day.

Joseph Muglia, director of system operations and grid automation at Hydro Ottawa, said only about 5,000 customers had their power restored Sunday, leaving more than 170,000 still in the dark.

He said more than 200 hydro poles were damaged beyond repair, many snapped in half by the force of the winds. A truck was loaded with replacement poles Sunday and was on its way to the city, but he warned the repairs are complicated and the utility hasn't finished assessing the situation yet.

It has been less than four years since this many customers lost power in Ottawa, but the tornadoes in that September 2018 storm caused more localized damage. The tornadoes led to about 200 unique outages and most were fixed within 36 hours. On Sunday Hydro Ottawa was still dealing with more than 550 unique outages.

Power to the city's water treatment plant was restored late Sunday afternoon, one of the priority repairs for Hydro Ottawa. Muglia said the Ottawa airport should be back on grid power before the end of the day.

The City of Ottawa has opened nine respite sites at community centres and areas for people to charge their devices, take showers and, in some cases, access some food. The Salvation Army and Canadian Red Cross are aiding at many of the sites.

Across the provincial border, Hydro-Québec said the storm cut power to 550,000 customers from Gatineau to Québec City at its peak, while as of Sunday afternoon there were close to 350,000 customers still cut off.

Sophie Desjardins, who lives in Lachute, northwest of Montreal, posted a photo of what was left of her truck after a tree crashed on the vehicle while she was driving back home with her boyfriend.

"The sky turned so dark, and the wind was so intense," Desjardins said on Sunday.

"We felt a huge impact and the window shattered … When we saw the condition of the truck, we realized we had gotten pretty really lucky. If the tree had fallen two seconds earlier, it would have fallen directly on us … The furniture that was in the back of the truck was completely destroyed."

David Sills, executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University, said wind speeds could have reached much higher than already reported, given the concentrated damage.

"We're seeing evidence of some damage, such as roofs off and hydro towers crumbled, that kind of thing that gets more into … 180 to 220 kilometres per hour," he said.

He said teams from the project have gone to the Uxbridge area as well as to southern Ottawa over suspicions that they could have been hit by tornadoes or elevated winds.

The last derecho storm to hit the region with such strong wind speeds was back in 1995, said Sills.

"This is a fairly rare event in Canada where it's just widespread wind damage over a long, long track and reaching wind speeds that are quite high."

— With files from Virginie Ann in Montreal.


UPDATE: 11:10 a.m.

A major clean-up effort is underway following Saturday's fierce storm that left at least seven dead and hundreds of thousands without power after it swept across southern Ontario and Quebec.

Police say six deaths in Ontario were caused by falling trees as strong winds created widespread damage, while a woman in Quebec died when a boat she was in capsized in the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers.

The storm damage has led the Ontario towns of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, and Clarence-Rockland, east of Ottawa, to declare states of emergency, while hundreds of thousands across both provinces remain without power as crews work to restore services.

Hydro providers, however, are warning that it could take days for some to get power back.

"Between trees, branches, broken poles and wires down, it's really a very very messy messy cleanup," said Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa.

She said while it's not unusual to have such high numbers of people temporarily without power, which for Hydro One stood at about 270,000 Sunday morning, the extent of the damage, including the toppling of metal transmission towers in the Ottawa area, is notable.

"That is unique, and it tells you sort of the severity of the storm," she said.

Hydro Ottawa said that as of 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning it had cut the number of local outages from more than 1,000 to 575, but about 176,500 customers were still affected.

The utility could not say when most issues were likely to be resolved, adding 200 hydro poles had been knocked out or destroyed.

“Damage is deep,” the utility said in a Twitter update Sunday.

Hydro-Québec said that at the peak the storm cut power to 550,000 customers from Gatineau to Québec City, while as of about noon Sunday there were some 370,000 customers still in the dark.

Sophie Desjardins, who lives in Lachute, northwest of Montreal, posted a photo of what was left of her truck after a tree crashed on the vehicle while she was driving back home with her boyfriend.

"The sky turned so dark, and the wind was so intense," Desjardins said on Sunday.

"We felt a huge impact and the window shattered ... When we saw the condition of the truck, we realized we had gotten pretty really lucky. If the tree had fallen two seconds earlier, it would have fallen directly on us ... The furniture that was in the back of the truck was completely destroyed."

The level of damage across the two provinces came in part from the nature of the storm, which looks to have been what is called a derecho, said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng.

"When they say derecho, it's widespread, long-lived wind storms that are associated with rapidly moving thunderstorms, and that seems to be what we had yesterday," he said. "Because when you look at the damage, that was widespread, it wasn't just one track."

The storm, with winds of up to 132 kilometres per hour, was severe enough to trigger the agency's first use of the broadcast-interrupting weather alert system for a thunderstorm, said Cheng.

The Ontario fatalities from the storm include a 44-year-old man in Greater Madawaska west of Ottawa, a woman in her 70s out for a walk in Brampton, a 59-year-old man on a golf course in Ottawa, and one person killed in their camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Waterloo Region.

Provincial police said Sunday morning that a 64-year-old woman also died from a storm-related tree fall at a home in North Kawartha Township, and a 74-year-old woman died after being struck by a falling tree in Port Hope.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath expressed her condolences during a campaign press conference in Toronto on Sunday morning.

"I want to say how much my heart goes out to to the families and friends and communities where people lost their lives or were injured by the storm."


ORIGINAL: 6:30 a.m.

As many as five people are dead and tens of thousands remain without power following a fierce storm that swept across Ontario and Quebec.

Gatineau police said a 51-year-old woman died when the boat she was in capsized in the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers, Que. during Saturday's storm.

Ontario Provincial Police said a 44-year-old man was killed in Greater Madawaska, west of Ottawa, after reportedly being struck by a falling tree, while police in Ottawa said one person died in the city's west end, but didn't release any further details.

Peel Regional Police said a woman in her 70s was killed by a falling tree while she was walking in Brampton, west of Toronto.

OPP reported one person was killed and two others were injured when a tree fell on a camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Waterloo Region.

The Township of Uxbridge, Ont. declared a local state of emergency after the storm caused significant damage in the community. A statement posted on the township's website says there are widespread power outages and many closed roads due to downed trees and power lines. Residents are being asked to stay home to allow municipal workers to focus on removing road hazards rather than manage traffic congestion.

As of early Sunday morning, about 269-thousand Hydro One customers were without power, while Hydro Ottawa reported more than 550 outages affecting over 170-thousand customers.

Trees and power lines were knocked down across a swath of the province stretching from Sarnia to Ottawa by ferocious winds, which at one point reached 132 km/h at the Kitchener airport.



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