Montreal cleans up after powerful storm leaves destruction in its wake

A major cleanup effort could last several days in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, which was hit hard by a powerful storm that passed through the region Tuesday. The same system produced a tornado in Lachute, northwest of Montreal.

Same system led to development of a tornado in Lachute, northwest of Montreal

Workers clear a downed tree blocking a street in the Montreal borough of Notre-Dame-de-Grace on Wednesday, August 23, 2017. A severe wind storm that ripped through the area Tuesday August 22 caused tremendous damage to trees, cars and rooftops, and leaving more than 63,000 Hydro-Quebec customers without power. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

Thousands of Montrealers are still without power and the cleanup has begun after parts of the island were hit by a powerful storm that left widespread destruction in its wake.

The storm, which hit Tuesday afternoon and brought winds of up to 120 km/h, snapped tree branches, uprooted trees and downed hydro poles from the West Island over to the Saint-Henri neighbourhood, but authorities say there have been no reported injuries.

Environment Canada has confirmed that the same system produced a tornado that touched down in Lachute, about 82 kilometres northwest of Montreal, early Tuesday evening. Winds there reached up to 180 km/h.

No one was hurt there either, but hundreds of residences were damaged and about 40 residents were forced out of their homes.
Emile Turcotte walks through his backyard as his trampoline hangs from a tree in Lachute. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Serge Abergel said the hope is to have electricity restored to most clients by the end of the day Wednesday.

The issue, he said, is that crews are dealing with downed trees, broken hydro poles and wires on the ground. The workers are actually rebuilding parts of the network, not just repairing them.

"The damage is very impressive. I can't believe what I'm seeing around here," he told CBC from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park in Montreal Wednesday morning.

The Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood was hit by a microburst, according to Environment Canada, and appears to have been dealt the hardest blow.

Roads in NDG are still littered with branches and debris, making it difficult to get around.

Broken and uprooted trees wreak havoc

The microburst cut through a section of NDG. (Natalie Holdway/CBC)
Julie Anne Lafleur has lived on Harvard Avenue for about 20 years. There's a tree on her front lawn that she estimates is at least 100 years old. It's so big, they can't grow grass around it because the tree uses all the nutrients from the soil, she said.

"It just fell, luckily, right onto the street. Completely uprooted, the hole is four feet deep," she said.

"We can't believe it."

Parts of Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood are littered with broken branches and uprooted trees after a microburst hit the area Tuesday afternoon. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Anna Bonokowsi has lived on Draper Avenue for a year. The trees and the look of the neighbourhood were part of what motivated her to move to NDG.

The storm left a tree balancing off her skylight, she said. It was removed earlier Wednesday.

She said the difference in how her front lawn looks now is astonishing.

But the silver lining is that since yesterday she's met a number of her neighbours, who have offered her places to stay or to help clean up as much as they can.

This century-old tree on Julie Anne Lafleur's front lawn was felled by strong winds and 'luckily' landed on the street, not her home. (Submitted by Julie Anne Lafleur)

"I think the legacy of the ice storm have left the people of NDG with this sense of helping your neighbours," she said.

Suzanne Mercier lives on St-Joseph Boulevard in Lachine, along the lakeshore. She was at home when the storm hit and says it came on quickly.

Her roof was damaged when a tree fell onto her home and her electricity was out until early Wednesday afternoon.

She said all things considered, she feels lucky.

Clearing streets a priority, NDG mayor says

Soon after the storm hit, work began to clear streets and ensure residents were safe, according to Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough Mayor Russell Copeman.

Their priority, he said, is to clear the streets that are closed due to debris in the street.

Copeman said the hardest hit areas are between Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Avenue and Sherbrooke Street, east of Hingston Avenue.

Amélie Bertrand of Environment Canada said microbursts are localized, which explains why some streets were ravaged but others nearby look untouched.

Copeman said about 15 crews including Montreal firefighters, Hydro-Québec and public works employees from the borough as well as from four other boroughs that offered their assistance, worked overnight and into the morning to remove debris.

Copeman said authorities are asking residents to stay away from debris and fallen trees in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park, which is closed until further notice due to safety concerns.

Richard Liebmann, deputy director of the fire department, said the power has been turned off in the area for safety reasons.

Crews contracted out by the borough of Lachine worked on at least five homes today across from Sumerlea Park along the lakeshore, cutting down and clearing out trees. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

"It's an exceptional weather event," said Liebmann.

"Always consider downed wires as live wires," he added. "If you see a line down, don't go anywhere near it, don't hesitate to call 911 and we'll come check it out if we're not already aware of it."

Damage reminiscent of ice storm

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil stopped by the neighbourhood, which is part of her riding, to offer extra help from the province.

Calm was restored soon after the storm, but it wasn't without destruction some say is unheard of in the area since the 1998 ice storm.

"In the affected area, the devastation is really quite similar," Copeman said.

"The loss of trees [that are] more than 100 years old, which is one of the hallmarks of certainly eastern NDG, is just quite devastating."

NDG is home to several trees that are at least 100 years old, like this one that shattered under the force of Tuesday's storm. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Kate McKenna and Antoni Nerestant