Windstorm cleanup underway

Cleanup crews worked to clear roads Friday after dozens of uprooted and snapped trees thudded onto the streets due to fierce winds, blocking traffic and even crushing some parked vehicles.

Hydro Ottawa criticized for lack of information updates

Cleanup crews worked to clear roads Friday after dozens of uprooted and snapped trees thudded onto the streets due to fierce winds, blocking traffic and even crushing some parked vehicles.

Resident Norm Avery said he'd never seen anything like it before.

"I've even worked in the bush as a lumberjack, but I haven't seen one come down automatically like this," he said.

At least two people were seriously injured and were being treated in hospital after being blown over by the ferocious gusts from Thursday's windstorm  in Ottawa. Winds reached 100 km/h. One woman had both of her legs broken when a tree broke and fell on her.

Although Mariam Saunders was safe, her home wasn't in such great shape after tree toppled onto her home. 

Tree fell on house

"I came out my front door and I was trying to put my son on the school bus, and the tree in my front lawn came on to my house, fell on to my house," she said.

Hundreds of city workers were deployed to clear up the mess while the city asked for patience from residents.

"It's a very large city, and this is a storm that kind of swept from one end to the other," said Coun. John Ash. "There is large areas, pockets throughout the city, that we're focusing our attention on, and it will take some time."

Meanwhile, peeved Hydro Ottawa customers were critical of the utility on Friday, saying a lack of updates on power outages following a major windstorm left them in the dark in more ways than one.

Complaints about poor information

More than 20,000 households across swaths of Ottawa were without electricity at one point on Thursday. Hydro Ottawa said 3,000 customers within the city were still affected as of Friday afternoon.

As of 2 p.m., Hydro Quebec reported that just over 22,000 households in the Outaouais region of Quebec were still without power on Friday. The main areas affected were Collines, Gatineau, La Vallee des Outaouais, Papineau and Pontiac.

Hydro Quebec said it expected to restore power to 85 per cent of those homes in the evening, with the remaining 15 per cent to have electricity by the end of Sunday latest.

Updates expected every hour

But while Hydro Ottawa said its standard is to update its recorded voicemail every hour to provide the latest information on power outages, many callers found that was not the case on Thursday.

Advisories and closures

Ottawa Public Health has issued a boil-water advisory for about 1,300 households serviced by the city’s Munster Hamlet well system. A power outage caused by the storm led to a drop in pressure in the water distribution system.

Residents in that area are advised to bring their water to a rolling boil before consuming. Public health staff are at the Munster Community Centre from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday to provide bottled water to those affected by the boil-water advisory.

Power outages forced the closure of four Ottawa area public schools — J. H. Putman Public School, Manotick Public School, Metcalfe Public School and Osgoode Township High School.

In the Catholic school board, St. Catherine Elementary School in Metcalfe was the only school closed as of Friday morning.

"When I called, it was around 9 p.m. Their message said it was 1:30 in the afternoon," said one customer on Lees Avenue.

"They can't help what the weather did, but it's the information. You just get automation that tells you nothing."

The utility's website wasn't much help either, with unplanned outage reports posted the day after they happen. And while an area map exists, it is difficult to find and out of date.

Twitter posts outdated

As of Friday morning, it still didn't include several areas hit by the storm.

As for turning to social media for more information, the "Hydro Ottawa Cares" Twitter account seemed to be playing catch-up, only posting its first storm-related tweet at 9 a.m. Friday morning.

Norm Fraser, Hydro Ottawa's Chief Operating Officer, reasoned employees were overwhelmed with their top priority on Thursday — fixing and eliminating dangerous downed power lines.

With 15 per cent of the utility's customers hit across such a larger area, Fraser said it was a challenge to provide the detailed updates sought by customers.

'Sometimes nothing new to say'

"Sometimes, the update, there's nothing new to say," he said. "And even though the message is old, the new message would be saying the exact same thing."

Fraser thanked customers for their patience and a news release on Friday said that Hydro Ottawa expected to have power restored for all customers by early Sunday morning.

"The damage to our distribution system is extensive," said Lance Jefferies Director Distribution Operations, adding that more urban hydro poles were damaged Thursday than during the 1998 ice storm.

Hydro One, which provides power in Ottawa outlying areas, has been providing detailed outage information since Thursday. About 24,700 customers were still without power by Friday afternoon, but the thousands of customers in Winchester, Perth, Arnprior and Vankleek Hill were expected to be back with power by Saturday 10 p.m. latest.