Quebecers are surveilling the damage Friday after a powerful summer storm — that produced at least one confirmed tornado — flooded roads, downed trees and left hundreds of thousands in the dark.
Hydro-Québec says about 84,000 households were still without electricity as of 3 p.m. on Friday. The situation is improving as the public utility said high winds and torrential rain knocked out power for nearly 392,000 clients at its peak in the Lanaudière, Montérégie and Montreal regions Thursday.
“We are now counting on a strike force of more than 800 people in the field,” Hydro-Québec said in an online update in the afternoon. “Teams are travelling between regions to speed up restoration.”
Citing the severity of the storm, Hydro-Québec said more serious outages could take longer to fix— it expects up to 50,000 people will still be in the dark by day’s end.
“The work will continue over the weekend and could continue next week for certain more complex cases or in isolated areas,” it said.
Severe thunderstorms swept through parts of southern and central Quebec, including Montreal, on Thursday afternoon. Environment Canada confirmed a tornado in Mirabel, located north of the city, though there were no reported injuries or damage.
The weather agency said in a Friday morning update that a funnel cloud was reported in Vaudreuil-Dorion and a second in Sorel-Tracy. For now, they remain unconfirmed.
The quick and torrential rainfall flooded streets, highways, sewers and even a shopping centre in Montreal. Environment Canada said 50 to 90 millimetres of precipitation fell in the St. Lawrence Valley, with winds reaching upwards of 100 kilometres per hour at the Montreal airport.
Hail measuring up to two centimetres was also reported in the province.
“These conditions downed many trees and hydro poles and damaged several buildings all over southern Quebec,” the agency said in its update.
Montreal was pounded by rain, with parts of the city getting up up to 85 millimetres of rain in a two-hour span. The storm flooded 130 homes, downed 100 trees and broke more than 300 branches, according to a spokesperson.
“No city infrastructure can handle this amount of rain,” Philippe Sabourin told reporters, explaining the city received about a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours.
The storm also triggered what Sabourin said was the city’s first tornado warning and he said “we’ll need to collectively develop reflexes” to become more resilient to such weather events.
Those reflexes, he said, could include building “immense” underground reservoirs to store surplus water, and more green infrastructure, such as parks and roadside gardens, which can absorb water and keep it from flowing into sewers.
“The idea is to build a sponge city,” Sabourin said.
In the city’s southwest end, some streets were flooded to the point of being impassable.
“Water was up to my ankles,” St-Henri resident Jay Ritchie said.
Michel Pelletier has been a resident of Beaconsfield in Montreal’s West Island for 30 years. He says he has never experienced a storm like that.
”That wind was the strongest thing I’ve ever been hit with and I thought I would be carried away somewhere,” he said.
Montrealers are advised not to swim in the St. Lawrence and Des Prairies rivers for at least 48 hours. Sabourin said the waters could be contaminated due to runoff from overflowing.
Meanwhile, the fire department in Quebec City carried out more than 100 interventions related to heavy rain and lightning strikes. Firefighters were called to flooded homes, road accidents and, in one case, had to help get a resident stuck in an elevator.
— with files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines, Tim Sargeant, Annabelle Olivier and The Canadian Press