Death toll from Saturday's storm hits 10 as communities survey damage

As the death toll related to the powerful storm that swept Ontario and Quebec on Saturday reached 10 on Monday, some of the hardest-hit communities were still working to take stock of the damage.

Hydro providers warn it could take days before power is fully restored

A crumpled stop sign nestled in the wreckage of a downed tree.
A stop sign is damaged after a tree fell on it during a major storm in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As the death toll related to the powerful storm that swept Ontario and Quebec on Saturday reached 10 on Monday, some of the hardest-hit communities were still working to take stock of the damage.

"It's probably easier for us to count the homes that have no damage than the ones that have damage," said Clarence-Rockland fire chief Pierre Voisine, while surveying wreckage in nearby Hammond, Ont., on Monday.

The storm hit the region hard enough to reduce some homes to twisted piles of timber. Downed power lines and broken telephone polls are still blocking streets strewn with debris from uprooted trees and rubble from wrecked buildings.

The scale of the destruction prompted the community, along with the town of Uxbridge, Ont., east of Toronto, to declare a state of emergency.

Hammond resident Mijanou Guibord felt the devastation first-hand when the house she bought brand-new in December was destroyed by the high winds.

"I was sitting in the living room with my dog — he is a PTSD dog I got to help me after my house before was destroyed by fire — and I saw a red tin roof flying. I grabbed him by the neck and we ran downstairs," said Guibord on Monday, as she looked on at what remained of her home.

"All the windows were smashed in. I yelled out 'help me!' from the basement. My neighbour kicked the doors in. The whole house was demolished. My car is still in there."

Dominic Couture, the neighbour who came to Guibord's rescue, said that while his house was only somewhat hit with a large dent on the side, the pickup truck he finished paying off four months ago was crushed.

"My truck was parked in the front of the house and I think it flew into the back," he said. "It's a Dodge Ram and it is demolished."

Beef farmer John Lowe spent the day clearing debris on his family farm in Bearbrook, Ont., after the storm completely destroyed his barn.

Lowe, who was working on the farm when the storm hit, sheltered in an excavator which he later used to dig out trapped cattle from the collapsed building.

"The weather warnings were going off, then the wind really picked up and started blowing dirt around," Lowe said.

The storm blew this recreational vehicle onto its side by the gate of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park near Bowmanville, Ont., west of Oshawa. (Larry Guerriero/CBC)

Elsewhere in the province, Toronto Hydro said it has restored power to over 96 per cent of customers, with about 4,000 still offline.

Provincial provider Hydro One said more than a thousand power poles in its network had been knocked down by the storm, along with four transmission towers in the Ottawa area. It said about 178,000 customers were still without power Monday afternoon, while service had been restored to more than 400,000 customers.

Across the provincial boundary, Hydro-Quebec was reporting about 174,000 customers were still without power, down from a peak of more than 550,000 stretching from Gatineau to Quebec City. Provincial Energy Minister Jonatan Julien held a news conference Monday morning, saying the goal was to re-establish power to 80 per cent of residents before the end of the day.

Some residents, however, expressed frustration as to how the provider has communicated the restoration plan.

Marie-Eve Cloutier, a pregnant woman who lives in Quebec City, said she spent 25 hours without electricity and was in a constant state of anxiety wondering when power might come back.

She said Hydro-Quebec's website indicated the restoration in her area was a "work in progress," leading her to believe issues would be resolved more quickly than they were.

"It's not their fault that there's no electricity, or that the work to restore it takes more than 24 hours," Cloutier said on Monday. "It's the lack of communication that was bad."

The storm tore through southern Ontario and Quebec in a matter of hours, breaking hydro poles, toppling towers, uprooting trees, and ripping shingles and siding off houses.

While Environment Canada sent out an alert warning people of the storm, the fast-moving system caught many off-guard.

The total death toll from Saturday's storm is still unclear, but police in Ontario have reported eight people killed by falling trees in locations across the province, and a ninth killed by a falling tree branch during the aftermath on Sunday.

A 10th person died Saturday when the boat she was in capsized on the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers, Que.

The latest victim was confirmed Monday by Peterborough Police, who said a 61-year-old Lakefield man died during the storm from a falling tree.

With files from Ian Bickis in Toronto and Virginie Ann in Montreal