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BEYOND LOCAL: Thousands of Canadians still in the dark after storm knocked out power

By late afternoon, power was still out for about 25,000 Hydro-Québec customers and around 5,000 Hydro One customers
A Hydro Quebec truck is shown in an area without power in Montreal, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, following a winter storm in the region. Utility crews in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are still working to restore electricity to thousands of customers who have been in the dark for days after last week's fierce winter storms knocked out their power. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Utility crews in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were still working Tuesday to restore electricity to thousands of people in the dark days after last week's fierce winter storms knocked out their power.

By late afternoon, power was still out for about 25,000 Hydro-Québec customers and around 5,000 Hydro One customers.

New Brunswick Power had restored electricity to a majority of residents impacted by the storm, which it said caused one of the largest provincewide outages in 25 years.

The utility's outage map showed 77 customers still affected.

Hydro-Québec said 95 per cent of customers had regained power since the extreme weather started on Friday.

It said it had 1,300 field staff working on the problem, and teams from stabilized regions would turn to the hardest-hit areas.

Denis Lavoie, a resident of Quebec's Laurentians region north of Montreal, said he was feeling increasingly abandoned after nearly five days without power.

Instead of seeing his children and grandchildren at Christmas, he and his wife stayed home, cooking hamburgers on a propane stove.

He said the estimated time of repair for their Mont-Tremblant home on Hydro-Québec’s website kept changing, and he questioned why power couldn't be restored more quickly.

"Outages of 24 or 36 hours, I can understand," he said. "But not 106 hours in winter."

Lavoie purchased a generator earlier this year which gave him some electricity, but said he feels Hydro-Québec should reimburse clients for the long outage, which had cost him almost $200 in gasoline and wood so far.

On Monday, Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu acknowledged customer frustration with the inaccurate estimated timelines on Hydro-Québec’s website, and said crews sometimes discover more problems once they arrive on a scene.

Brochu said it was hard to provide a precise estimate for when power would be restored to the customers still affected due to the complexity of the remaining jobs.

While she said the “vast majority” of outages will be resolved by Wednesday, she couldn’t promise that all the lights would be back on by New Year’s Eve.

“Nobody will be forgotten,” she said. “We will have no surrender and no peace until everybody is connected back.”

Jacob Walker and his partner were staying at his mother's residence, a 45-minute drive from Quebec City, after losing power on the morning of Dec. 23. 

The couple lives in the capital's Charlesbourg borough, and Walker said that on Tuesday the status to restore his power on the Hydro-Québec application was "undetermined."

"The first day, we managed the situation very well. We kept the refrigerator and freezer closed. We also tried to keep the doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold air out and we brought out all of the blankets," Walker said.

"By the second night, it was getting really cold. It was 9 C inside our apartment. At that point, I told my partner to leave, and she ended up sleeping over at a friend's house."

The couple's two cats also had to be relocated on the third day without electricity. 

"The apartment was no longer livable, so I left with my partner, and we went to stay at my mother's," he said. 

The temporary relocation has brought on additional expenses for Walker in the form of commuting and food spoilage costs. 

"We tried to give away as much food as we could to friends, but there was still loss, and with inflation right now, it's not great for us," said Walker. 

Premier François Legault said on Twitter that he could understand the frustration of the hydro clients who remained without electricity.

He thanked the Hydro-Québec linesmen and other public sector workers who worked during and after the storm, adding that the utility was doing everything it could to reconnect everyone's electricity by Wednesday.

-With files from Morgan Lowrie and Marisela Amador in Montreal

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press