MONTREAL — The number of Quebecers without power following Friday’s intense storm dropped steadily throughout the day Saturday, as hundreds of hydro employees worked to repair broken electrical poles and downed power lines across the province.
As of Saturday afternoon, about 340,000 customers were without power, down from a high of almost one million the night before, when an autumn storm unleashed heavy rain and punishing winds of up to 100 kilometres an hour across much of southern Quebec.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said most of the homes and businesses that lost power would likely be reconnected to the grid by Sunday night, but warned that large swaths of the province would continue to be in the dark into next week.
“There are still three regions that are problematic and where we think it could take longer than Sunday,” Legault told reporters, pointing to the Monteregie area around the city of Sherbrooke, the Laurentians and Lanaudiere sectors north of Montreal, and the Beauce region south of Quebec City.
Legault said one person has died as a result of the storm — a 63-year-old man who was struck by a falling tree on Friday morning in Bromont, about 85 kilometres east of Montreal.
“I want to offer all my condolences to the family and friends of the man from Bromont,” Legault said.
Eric Martel, president of Hydro-Quebec, said about 1,000 hydro employees were working to repair 250 hydro poles knocked out during the storm. He said about 300 power lines were downed across the province, and 2,500 loads of branches, trees and other vegetation affecting the distribution system needed to be cleared away.
Hydro-Quebec often sends workers to other provinces and U.S. states to help restore power, Martel noted, saying that now it’s the province’s turn to request assistance. But few workers from outside the province were available, because areas around Quebec were also hit hard by the strong winds and rain.
Still, Martel said, contractors from New Brunswick had arrived to help, and 40 teams from Detroit were expected to arrive on Saturday afternoon and be ready to work by Sunday.
“We are putting in all the effort to bring the situation back to normal as quickly as possible,” Martel said. “The good news is that by (Sunday night) we should have covered the majority of the blackouts.”
Heavy rain also brought flooding to southern parts of the province, but Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said earlier Saturday she didn’t know exactly how many people were forced from their homes because local authorities hadn’t updated their figures.
Around 250 homes and businesses were evacuated on Friday in Sherbrooke, and about 30 roads were flooded in the region. The city said Saturday afternoon that the water levels of the St-Francois River had receded and people had begun returning home.
About one million people were without power at the height of the blackouts, the highest number since the 1998 ice storm left 1.4 million homes and business in the dark. But unlike in 1998, when transmission lines collapsed, the hydro utility said the main network was not affected this time.
Meanwhile, in New Brunswick, about 6,000 customers were still without power on Saturday afternoon after the same storm system that hit Quebec made its was east. About 52,000 customers were affected at the peak of the outage during Friday’s storm.
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According to estimates on the utility’s website, electricity was expected to be restored in most areas by late Saturday evening.
Power had also been largely restored across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Saturday, where outage numbers were much lower than in New Brunswick.