Howling winds batter Quebec, leaving hundreds of thousands in the dark

Howling winds ripped the façade off a house in Montreal's Ville-Saint-Pierre neighbourhood, destroyed a gas station in Saint-Hyacinthe and deprived hundreds of thousands of people of electricity across Quebec on Friday.

1 dead, another seriously injured in storm that pulled down trees, flooded streets

Crews were working to restore power Friday after a powerful wind storm brought down trees and hydro lines. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Howling winds ripped the façade off a house in Montreal's Ville-Saint-Pierre neighbourhood, destroyed a gas station in Saint-Hyacinthe and deprived hundreds of thousands of people of electricity across Quebec on Friday.

The storm has claimed at least one life: In Bromont, on Montreal's South Shore, a 63-year-old man died after a tree fell on him. He was taking a photo of another fallen tree.

Another man was seriously injured when part of a brick wall came tumbling off a building in the Montreal neighbourhood of Parc-Extension. The building was evacuated Friday afternoon.

The number of Quebecers without power has been increasing steadily throughout the day, as high winds continue to fling tree branches onto power lines.

As of 11 p.m. ET on Friday, some 690,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, according to Hydro-Québec. At the height of the outage, that number was closer to 980,000.

Hydro-Québec's Éric Filion said that crews will be working around the clock to restore power, but some customers may remain in the dark into next week, depending on the level of damage to their local power lines.

In the meantime, the agency is asking citizens to stay away from downed lines and avoid trying to move fallen branches or any other debris themselves and instead wait for authorities to arrive.

"We have hundreds of trees down on the lines across the province. We have some electricity poles that are broken because of the wind," said spokesperson Cendrix Bouchard.

Almost one million Hydro-Québec customers were without power on Friday afternoon. (Hydro-Québec)

About 600 Hydro-Québec line workers are out trying to repair outages. More than 2,100 incidents, such as downed power lines, have been reported to the utility across the province — most of them in Montreal, the Laurentians and the Montérégie region, Bouchard said.

Hydro-Québec said it was prepared for Friday's outages, due to the forecast.

The wind across southwestern Quebec will continue to gust to around 90 km/h until about 6 p.m., when gusts will taper to about 60 km/h, said Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault.

"It's not record-breaking winds, but it's quite unusual," he said.

Earnscliffe Street and Monkland Avenue was one of the heaviest-hit areas in Montreal. (Debbie Hynes/CBC)

Most departures at Montreal's Trudeau airport have been delayed or cancelled; many arrivals have also been delayed.

A number of schools in Montreal and Montérégie let students out early due to the blackouts, although staff remained on site and after-school daycares remained open in elementary schools, waiting for parents to pick up children.

The unusually high winds arrived Friday morning after a night of heavy rain, which led to the risk of flooding in parts of the province. 

Watch strong winds take down part of a gas station in Saint-Hyacinthe:

The harsh weather system was due to a very warm air mass coming from the south and a colder one sitting over Central Canada, Legault said.

Montreal received 53 millimetres of rain Thursday into Friday, Legault said, while the Eastern Townships saw 80 to more than 100 millimetres — depending on where the measurement was taken.

In Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships, 150 homes were evacuated in the downtown area as water levels in the Saint-François River rose quickly overnight. At one point, the water rose more than a metre in 30 minutes.

A hole in the road opened up on Fulford Street in Lac-Brome because of the heavy rains. (Radio-Canada)

"These aren't homes that are currently flooded. We chose to evacuate them while they're dry so it's easier for people," said Stéphane Simoneau, head of the Sherbrooke fire department and the city's co-ordinator of emergency measures. 

Simoneau said water levels had risen seven metres, and if they rise another third of a metre, the risk would be greater. However, by early afternoon, the rain had stopped, and it appeared that the water levels were starting to recede.

More than 100 millimetres of rain fell in Sherbrooke overnight and into Friday, more than double what city officials expected. The ground was already saturated, so the water quickly drained toward the lower parts of the city, Simoneau said.

Residents have called 911 to report landslides, flooding due to backed-up storm drains and downed tree branches. Officials have opened an emergency centre. 

In Cowansville, about 100 kilometres east of Sherbrooke, people living in the Bonnette, Jean-Baptiste, des Vétérans and Saint-Rémi neighbourhoods are being asked to evacuate.

The town has set up a disaster centre at the library at 608 du Sud St.

A small landslide near Beauceville, 90 kilometres southeast of Quebec City, has closed Highway 173, which connects many towns in the region.

In Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, officials are monitoring water levels in the Chaudière River. The town has issued a warning to residents downtown to prepare for flooding later today.

People living in an apartment on Mackenzie Street in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood say their building has flooded, damaging their furniture, clothes and electronics.

The Church of Saint-Pie in Saint-Hyacinthe had part of its bell tower blown off. (Radio-Canada)

With files from Radio-Canada's Brigitte Marcoux and CBC's Radio Noon


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