Last Friday’s Windstorm saw the greatest number of Quebecers suffer power outages than at any time since the 1998 Icestorm. Some 990,000 were left in the dark and cold last week. The 1998 figure was 1.4 million. One of the severest areas hit on the island of Montreal was the southern strip of the West Island running from Dorval through Pointe Claire, Beaconsfield, SADB and onto Baie D’Urfé. The 100kmh winds created waves that slammed onto the roads and sidewalks along the Lakeshore. It was the first time that wind — more than rain — caused the water to come ashore.

Over 1100 Hydro Quebec employees worked day and night on the ground to restore power through the weekend. Some 15,000 West Islanders were without power through parts of the weekend. “Given the magnitude of the event, complete recovery could take several days” Hydro warned Saturday morning promising to carry out work around the clock to restore power as quickly as possible. By 11 a.m. on Sunday, the number of outages province-wide was already reduced by 85% with under 150 000 customers without power.

Recovery after the ice storm took much longer of course and consisted of a much more complicated process because the principle causes of the loss of power then resulted from damages which affected the utility’s generation capacity whereas the damages that occurred as a result of last weekend’s event only affected the utility’s transmission capacity which according to Hydro Quebec’s CEO Eric Martel is an issue that is much easier to fix.

Trees tumbling over and onto power lines — some sucked out of the ground by their roots from the violent winds — were one of the prime causes of the massive outages. Some 2500 trees fell on Hydro infrastructures and caused an estimated 250 poles to topple over with over 850 line breaks.

One of the reasons the West Island was so affected is that it is home to the largest number of trees per square kilometre on the island. Hydro Quebec spokesperson Francois Labbé explained that given the nature of the outages, the workers often had to act like lumberjacks before they could even get to the lines to repair them.

Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault reassured citizens that the situation — which she referred to as “A big meteorological event hitting Quebec full-bore” — was under control.

Eric Fillion, president of Hydro Quebec’s distribution division, estimated that a total of approximately 2000 individual locations required repairs on Friday alone, a number that more than tripled by Saturday due to ongoing wind surges. Utility workers from Ontario, Detroit, Nova-Scotia and Michigan came to help resolve the crisis. Private companies were also hired by Hydro Quebec to help speed up the process.

Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough opened up the Roxboro library for residents who needed a place to warm up. The City of Beaconsfield opened up its recreation center Saturday offering warm drinks, the use of power outlets for residents to charge their cell phones and even a place to spend the night under a warm shelter.

Dollard des Ormeaux opened up the Civic Center for the night as well, offering up coffee and snacks and a place for residents to warm up and shower. The City of Pointe-Claire’s symbolic infrastructure, the famous windmill, ravaged by the wind, had its sails torn off. The City opened up the aquatic center to residents and provided snacks, drinks and light entertainment.

The West Island community spirit was evident once again in the face of natural disaster. Neighbours with power opened up their homes to residents affected by the outage to share light and warmth. In spite of the shake down that destroyed numerous trees, the community stood together firmly in its roots.

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