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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Hills residents endure five days without power, map gap worries some

It seemed like there was no end in sight for a group of homeowners in Wakefield, who, on April 10, were on Day 5 of a power outage and their addresses at the new condo development off of Elmdale Road were not showing up on Hydro-Quebec’s online outage map.

“This is now day, what, five?” asked a foggy resident, Martti Lahtinen on April 10, close to a week after a severe ice storm walloped the province and left over a million residents without power for several days. “Yesterday afternoon it was 96 hours. The frustrating thing is that everybody around us has juice. They got juice in two days, but we are now at Day 5.”

Power was restored to most of the homes in the new Wakefield Hills condo development by April 7, however a felled hydro wire was spotted hanging in the roadway and caused eight homes in the development to lose power.

What a difference 48 hours makes. Edelweiss resident Brad St. Jean snapped these two pics of his deck, two days apart following a severe ice storm April 5 that wiped out power for more than a million people across the province and left 130,000 households in the Outaouais in the dark. Thousands of residents went up to five days without power and some of them spoke to the Low Down about how they were able to save food, keep themselves entertained and stay informed about outage updates. Photos courtesy Brad St. Jean

Lahtinen said what’s most concerning to him is that when he types his address into the Hydro-Quebec outage map, nothing comes up; there is no information about the outage and no expected timeline for repair, which, he said, doesn’t give much hope for residents without power.

“We don’t get a shit storm every day, but you know what? Other shit might happen like fires, incidents, domestic violence, whatever. How are you going to find me?” questioned a concerned Lahtinen. “The future is people knowing where people are, especially the emergency service. You are just playing with people’s lives. If you’re not on the grid, you have to be identified.”

MRC des Collines Police spokesperson Martin Fournel confirmed to the Low Down that the new development in Wakefield is not on the force’s coverage map, but said that officers know where it is and can easily respond to emergencies.

“On our map that shows all the streets and addresses, we don’t have the new development,” said Fournel. “But if we get a call for an emergency, we will be able to send someone no matter what. The map is just helping our staff to have a visual of the area.”

La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux said he was not aware of the map gap regarding the new development, but said it’s up to the MRC des Collines regional government to update addresses with police. MRC Prefect Marc Carrière did not comment by press time.

According to Hydro-Quebec, they were aware of the outage at the new condos, but couldn’t provide a reason why the addresses weren’t showing up on their online outage map. Spokesperson Caroline Milliard urges customers to contact Hydro via other means when the outage map isn’t working.

“When clients are not sure whether or not Hydro-Quebec is aware of the outage at their location, they can always report it online or by calling us,” she said.

Ice storm wipes out power for over 1 million

During the peak of the ice storm on April 5, there were more than 1 million Quebec residents without power and Hydro-Quebec was alerting residents to hunker down because they knew it would take some time to restore the damaged power grid.

According to Milliard, 130,000 homes in the Outaouais were without power during the peak, and residents were getting flashbacks from the 1998 ice storm, when it took crews nearly three full weeks to repair the grid.

You likely wouldn’t have to dig too long to find Patrick Poitras’ beer stash in his makeshift outdoor freezer. Poitras was able to save all the food in his fridge by carving out a freezer in the snow. Photo courtesy Patrick Poitras

Edelweiss resident Patrick Poitras wasn’t about to let his food spoil during the storm, so he carved an outdoor freezer into the snow and slid a cooler and other frozen goods into the makeshift cold room. Knowing Poitras, there were likely a few cold ones stashed in there as well.

He also built a “dry fridge” — a wooden cabinet filled with snow to keep milk, veggies and other food cold, but not frozen.

“It took 10 minutes to shovel the fort,” said Poitras. “Packed the snow and voilà!”

Others have been just as crafty. Edelweiss resident Hélène Giroux was also on Day 5 without power on April 10 and said she and her family have become adept at dealing with storms after living in the Hills for over two decades. She said she’s gone more than 20 years without a generator, but after three major storms have left her powerless for multiple days – last May’s derecho storm, Christmas and the recent ice storm – she’s rethinking a generator.

“We do things that country people do,” Giroux told the Low Down. “I mean, we’ve got barrels of water for the toilets, drinking water, wood and kindling, so we have become pretty adept at all of this.” Giroux even cooked up a gourmet shrimp risotto meal — without a volt of power. Fortunately, average temperatures during the storm were hovering around 3 C as a high and as cold as -6 C at night, making it easier for Giroux and her family to get through the five-day ordeal without losing a fridge full of food. But any colder and she said she would have had to leave.

More than 400 families use Meredith Centre

During the peak of the outage, there were more than 3,000 homes without power in Chelsea — a staggering 88 per cent of homes in the municipality. But by April 10, that number was down to about 60 properties, but it was 60 too many for Mayor Pierre Guénard.

“It’s not bad, but you know what? During the derecho [storm], I was one of those people,” said Guénard. “It took seven days to get the power back and it’s tough. I feel for those families.”

Guénard and staff opened up the Meredith Centre as an emergency shelter and were able to offer wifi, changing stations, hot showers and coffee. More than 400 families showed up to use the services, however Guénard said some of those families returned multiple days throughout the outage, so it’s difficult to pin down an accurate number. Guénard praised his staff — everyone from public works, who were out doing wellness checks, to communications staff, who were putting out information as promptly as they could during the outage. He said some staffers worked until 4 a.m. and then showed up several hours later to help set up the Meredith Centre.

“We have a great staff and awesome people, from planning, recreation, finance,” said the mayor. “Everybody came to help make the coffee and set up the tables. So it was a really collaborative, collective work.”

La Pêche Mayor Lamoureux said close to 40 people used the Masham arena.


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