Hundreds of thousands still without power after high winds batter Ontario, Quebec

Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power in Ontario and Quebec after fierce winds on Friday brought down trees, blew shingles off roofs and scattered debris across both provinces.

Storm brought down trees, scattered debris across central Canada

A large tree lies across the top of a garage it has damaged in Toronto's east end. Crews are working to restore power across southern Ontario after fierce winds on Friday brought down trees, blew shingles off roofs and scattered debris. (Colleen Pilger)

Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power in Ontario and Quebec after fierce winds on Friday brought down trees, blew shingles off roofs and scattered debris across both provinces.

One, a forestry worker, was killed after a tree fell on him in Milton, while the other was killed after he came "in contact with live wires" in Hamilton. Police said the second man tried to clear wires from a roadway.

Authorities are looking into whether the storm may have played a role in two other fatalities.

A third man was killed late Friday while crossing near an intersection in Toronto while power was out in the area and traffic lights were not working.

And a fourth man was killed when he was struck by falling scaffolding in the Yonge and College streets area amid the high-powered winds. Police have not said officially if weather was to blame.

As of 10:15 p.m. Saturday, Hydro One said over 100,000 of its customers were without power in southwestern, central and eastern Ontario. 

Hydro Qué​bec said nearly 33,000 of households and businesses were also without power at approximately the same time due to damage from 100 km/h winds. 
A large tree branch blocks part of a street in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood. (Radio-Canada)

About 9,000 customers were still affected in Toronto as of 9 p.m., according to Toronto Hydro. About 68,000 customers were without power at the peak of the storm, which swept through the city in the late afternoon.

Toronto Hydro said Saturday evening that customers should be prepared, as outages may last though the night and into Sunday. Outages involving damage to equipment may take longer to repair, it warned. 

More than 350 hydro poles in Ontario were broken in the storm, according to Hydro One.

Marie-France Lalonde, minister of community safety and correctional services, said in a statement Saturday that she is aware that many families and businesses are dealing with the effects of the windstorm.

"I want to assure those affected that your local hydro utilities are working as quickly and safely as possible to return electricity to those without power," she said. "We will use all of our resources to ensure that our hard-working hydro crews get the help they need to ensure things get back to normal as quickly as possible."

Storm 'fast and furious'

Tori Gass, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro, said the utility considers itself to be in an "emergency state" because damage from the windstorm has been "severe." Etobicoke was the hardest hit area in Toronto, she said.

"The storm came in fast and furious yesterday," she said.

"There are poles that have been brought down and wires that have been brought down. There are some instances where there are risks and dangerous situations. This is a very serious and a significant event for our power system."

Outages have been reported across the city, she said.

"Unfortunately, it's scattered quite widely throughout the city. There seems to be not one area that wasn't touched by the damaging storm that happened yesterday." 
Chunks of a tree sit on a front lawn in Toronto's east end. This tree fell during the windstorm on Friday and was cut into pieces. (Alan Habbick/CBC)

She could not say when power will be restored to people experiencing outages and said the wait could be lengthy in some cases. 

"For some customers, it's been very quick. We are able to get in, clear up some downed trees and restring wires very quickly. For others, there is more significant damage and that is going to take a bit longer," she said.

Crews are assessing where the damage to hydro infrastructure has occurred, she added.

Outages were first reported to the utility at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Crews are responding to more than 400 reports of downed wires in Toronto on Saturday.

Crews are repairing fallen wires first due to public safety concerns. Toronto Hydro has brought in additional crews to help with restoration efforts. 

Toronto Hydro is urging residents to be mindful of their surroundings, stay at least 10 metres away, or the length of a school bus, from any downed wires, use caution when walking or driving in the city and not to duck under yellow tape. 

Gass said the windstorm caused more damage to hydro infrastructure in Toronto than did the ice storm in mid-April, when 44,000 customers lost power during the peak of the storm.

"This storm, while it was short-lived, was more much damaging than even that ice and windstorm that we had."

Crews 'out in full force'

Nancy Clark, communications officer for Hydro One, said crews have already restored power to about 160,000 customers. 

"We are moving crews from areas that weren't hit by the windstorm, such as northern Ontario, into southern and central Ontario to help out restore power so we can restore as many customers as possible today," she said. 
A tree leans on a house in Toronto a day after winds swept through the city. (Radio-Canada)

"Rest assured that every available crew is out in full force today working to restore power to everyone affected by the outage." 

Crews are focusing on main lines, she said. People in more remote areas may have to wait until Saturday night or Sunday for power to be restored. People who see fallen power lines are urged to call police and Hydro One.

There are no outages from the storm north of Algonquin Park, she added. 

Busy night for police, fire, mayor says

Mayor John Tory thanked police, firefighters and hydro crews for their response to the storm. Emergency call centres were "under huge stress" during the peak and he said the city will assess its response.

Tory said Toronto Fire had its busiest night since the ice storm of 2013 left thousands in the city without power. He described the winds as nearly hurricane force. 
Toronto Mayor John Tory says the winds were nearly hurricane force. He thanked police, fire and hydro crews for their efforts. (CBC)

"It was one of the worst windstorms in many, many years, in fact, maybe all the way back as far as Hurricane Hazel in terms of the strength of those winds," he said.

Passengers rescheduled at Pearson

Toronto's Pearson International Airport said the numbers of passengers moving through the airport was expected to be higher than normal early Saturday because of a brief ground stop on Friday night that suspended flight operations. Many passengers were rescheduled.

Robin Smith, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said on Saturday that the windstorm damaged a handful of gates. 

"The damage was limited to the canopy, which covers the bridge to aircraft door connection. Those canopies were repaired overnight and all bridges are already back in service," Smith said in an email.

'Dynamic' low pressure system brought winds

Environment Canada said a "dynamic" low pressure system from the southern U.S. brought high winds and sporadic thunderstorms to southern Ontario. Some areas received heavy rain and hail.

The storm lasted only a few hours, abating Friday evening. 

"It gave us one of the largest, widespread windstorms that we've had in many years across Southern Ontario," Arnold Ashton, meteorologist for Environment Canada, said Saturday. "It moved at very good clip." 
The windstorm uprooted this tree on Toronto Islands. (Gabrielle Sabourin/Radio-Canada)

Wind gusts of 126 km/hr were recorded in Hamilton, 122 km/hr at Waterloo, Ont., airport and 119 km/hr at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Ashton said high winds snapped a hydro pole outside the federal weather agency's office in Toronto's Downsview neighbourhood. The office is a forecasting centre. 

"Right where we turn into the driveway, there was one. We were on generator power here for much of the evening because of that," he said. 

The storm started in southwestern Ontario in the afternoon, moved across the province and swept into eastern Ontario late in the evening before heading into Quebec.

With files from Muriel Draaisma