Ottawa

Hydro One, Ontario residents remember lessons of '98 ice storm

People in eastern Ontario and the power distribution utility that serves them say they are now much better prepared for a disaster like the fierce ice storm a decade ago that left thousands without power, some for weeks.

People in eastern Ontario and the power distribution utility that serves them say they are now much better prepared for a disaster like the fierce ice storm a decade ago that left millions in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick without power, some for weeks.

The storm battered eastern Canada with freezing rain and ice pellets from Jan. 5 to 10, 1998, coating the region with a massive load of ice that toppled power and phone lines, utility poles and electrical transmission towers.

More than 85 millimetres of freezing rain and ice pellets fell on Ottawa, 73 mm on Kingston, 108 mm on Cornwall and 100 mm in Montreal.

Keith McPherson, a power line supervisor for Hydro One who worked on the lines during the disaster, said the utility has switched to stronger materials for its hardware.

It has replaced porcelain insulators with steel and polymeric ones, wood brackets with steel, and added stronger bracing to the wood structures it continues using.

But the biggest improvements made by the company after the storm were in a non-technical area, said Myles D'Arcey, vice-president of customer operations for Hydro One.

"The biggest learning I think for us was communication and the ability to communicate our actions to the media and to the customers," he said.

Dairy farmer has generator ready

Vankleek Hill, a community in Champlain Township 80 kilometres east of Ottawa, was without electricity for nearly four weeks after the storm.

Scott Allen, who runs a dairy farm just outside the community, one of the last to regain power in Ontario, said he now has his own generator that can be up and running in 15 minutes.

That wasn't the case at the time of the disaster, when he was forced to share a generator with two other farmers, a tiring process.

At the time, he hadn't bought his own generator because he thought the province's power distribution was so reliable he didn't need one.

"It always crossed your mind, but it was $10,000 for at most times four or five hours at a time once or twice a year," he said.

Gary Barton, the mayor of Champlain, said Thursday the township wasn't ready for the 1998 disaster, but has learned its lesson.

"We have better management, better organization, better use of facilities, better use of equipment, better access to assistance across the province and everyone knows their role," he said.

The township now has a major emergency plan and an emergency committee, and is better tied into Emergency Measures Ontario, he said.

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