July 13, 2020

Quebec residents face long, cold wait for power

HENRYVILLE, Quebec — Life inside this farm town’s community center seemed cozy and safe Sunday with kids playing and apple pies baking. But the world outside was a disaster zone.

Severed electrical wires dangled dangerously over the streets. Trees were bent and splintered. And repair crews struggled to reconnect power lines felled by a devastating ice storm in southern Quebec.

Though the freezing rain ended Friday after a five-day deluge, utility workers and relief officials still faced daunting challenges across the region, where about 900,000 households remained without power Sunday, down from 1.4 million.

Henryville, about 30 miles southeast of Montreal, was among the hardest hit.

Most blacked-out homes in Montreal are expected to get electricity back within a few days, but repairs here could take weeks, as huge metal transmission lines serving the area collapsed under the heavy ice.

For the 120 people taking shelter at the community center, that could mean many more nights on cots and gymnastics mats in a building heated by a donated generator.

Monique Lefebvre, 80, planned to spend Sunday night in the center, sleeping on a reclining lawn chair, covered with donated blankets.

“I’d been sleeping at home, but I can’t go back — it’s too cold,” Lefebvre said. “It’s a mess. There’s no heat, no water. All my trees are down. All my wires are down.”

For now, the community center has ample food, mostly brought in by residents who figured it would spoil in defrosted freezers. Volunteers on Sunday cooked hamburgers and peeled apples for applesauce and pies.

In other centers in Quebec — about 100,000 people have taken refuge in shelters in the province — officials said they were running out of such necessities as beds and diapers.

“We’re expecting more people at the shelters as the temperature goes down and people who had been staying at home show up looking for hot meals,” said Red Cross spokesman Laurent Eyquem.

Denis Auclair, a volunteer fireman in Henryville, called the storm an ecological disaster, estimating that half the trees in the area had been severely damaged.

“We’ve been cutting down trees for six days, 12 hours a day,” Auclair said.

Defense Minister Art Eggleton said 11,400 soldiers were being assigned to cleanup and relief duties.

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