Fallen tree branches are shown on a street following an accumulation of freezing rain in Montreal, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Fierce ice storm knocks out power for more than one million in Quebec and Ontario

A number of Quebecers are facing the prospect of an Easter weekend in the dark after a fierce storm system that brought thunder, lightning, snow and freezing rain to parts of Quebec and Ontario knocked out power to well over one million hydro customers .

As of 9:30 a.m., power outages affected 1.1 million homes and businesses in Quebec after freezing rain sent ice-laden tree branches crashing down onto power lines, streets and cars, the province’s power utility said.

Energy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said Thursday morning that Hydro-Québec expected one-third of the power breakdowns to be restored within 24 hours. It’s unclear, however, when the other two-thirds of clients will get their power back, but Hydro-Québec said in a tweet that certain Quebecers can expect to remain without power on Friday and over the holiday weekend.

Power outages are “concentrated” in certain parts of the province, and more than half are in the Montreal area, making restoration efforts less complicated than if the outages were distributed across rural areas, Fitzgibbon said. And unlike the 1998 ice storm that left millions in the dark — sometimes for weeks — Wednesday’s storm was more localized and left the utility’s main distribution network intact, he said.

“It’s a crisis — you have to be very sensitive to that; Montreal is currently devastated,” he said in Quebec City. “But I think that the concentration of the outages at the level of the circuit breakers, we think that it will be under control very quickly.”

Some 1,000 employees are working to restore power, Fitzgibbon said, adding that the province has received offers of aid from Ontario and New Brunswick.

Montreal authorities reported numerous calls for downed trees, while Transport Quebec said weather conditions forced it to close the Victoria Bridge, which connects Montreal with its southern suburbs, on Wednesday. Via Rail issued a travel advisory, saying power outages and track obstructions caused service delays and cancellations in the Montreal-Toronto corridor.

Prime Minister François Legault will visit Hydro-Québec offices in Montreal later Thursday.

In Ontario, Hydro One said more than 114,000 of its customers were without power as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The utility said its crews were working to restore power, even as outages continued to be reported in eastern Ontario because of heavy ice build up that damaged equipment or caused trees and branches to fall on distribution lines.

Hydro Ottawa issued a statement late Wednesday saying crews paused restoration efforts overnight because of unsafe working conditions caused by poor visibility and falling trees and branches on overhead wires. On Thursday morning, the utility said about 65,000 customers were without power because of freezing rain conditions.