Martin C. Barry
Public safety officials in Laval had the situation in hand last week following one of the most challenging freezing rain and ice storms in years brought down power lines, cut electricity and left debris from thousands of ice-laden trees scattered on the ground for salvaging over the weeks to come.
For many who were around more than 20 years ago, the pandemonium was a jarring reminder of the far greater ice storm that roared through the Montreal and Laval regions, the province of Quebec and large parts of eastern Canada in January 1998.
No power and fire hazards
Last week, Laval’s police and fire departments were kept busy with incoming reports of power outages, leading many homeowners to seek alternative heat and cooking sources which in turn resulted in some cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and domestic fires.
By mid-week, the Laval fire department reported at least 10 people suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide, sometimes coming from improperly operated emergency generators. As well, more than a dozen fires in Laval were believed to have been caused by unsafe use of candles and fireplaces while the electric power was out.
Traffic lights out of order
Traffic lights which were out of order at dozens of intersections in many parts of Laval are believed to have been a factor contributing to numerous car accidents. There were also reports of flooded basements caused by pipes which froze when electric heating was off. The Laval Police stepped up their patrols in areas where there were vacant homes, while also checking that residents who remained were safe.
Responding to the crisis, the City of Laval opened two storm shelters (centre communautaire Accès at 6500 Arthur-Sauvé Blvd. in Laval-Ouest and centre communautaire de Lausanne at 455 rue de Lausanne in Vimont) for residents displaced from their homes by cold and hunger.
Cots for overnight stays
They were able to recharge smartphones and use washing facilities. For those who chose to stay overnight, the Red Cross set up cots in the community centre basements. Several hundred residents are believed to have availed themselves of the offer.
The Laval News dropped by the Accès community centre in Laval-Ouest on Tuesday last week as some of the first displaced residents were arriving. Among the dozen or so people seated at tables in a second-storey meeting room were Pierre Tremblay of Laval’s Sainte-Rose district.
Refuge from the storm
“I have no electric power since yesterday around two in the afternoon and I haven’t slept all night,” said Tremblay, seated comfortably at a table with his smartphone and a few possessions, while adding that it was the lack of heat at home that finally drove him out. Also among the people who took shelter at the Accès community centre were some from Chomedey and Duvernay.
“We’re still waiting for power to be restored,” said Karla from Chomedey who preferred not to be identified by her last name. She was there with her mother who lives in Duvernay. At one point during the blackout, she found herself driving along Laval’s de la Concorde Blvd. trying to find a restaurant so that she and her mother could have a hot meal.
Uneven electrical service
“Some areas had power, but then not even a block later no power,” she added. They didn’t expect to stay overnight at the community centre. The kitchen in her home was furnished with gas so she expected at least to be able to fix a hot meal, although staying warm would be another matter altogether.
Stéphane Brion of Laval-Ouest was also coping as best he could with the situation. He turned up on Tuesday last week after losing electric power around noon the day before. Looking tired and disheveled, he said he found it too cold in his home to wash up properly and came to the community centre for some respite.
Area’s schools impacted
Among those inconvenienced at least one day by the storm were educational institutions. The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board closed Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary and Pinewood Elementary, as well as McCaig Elementary and Rosemère High School on the North Shore.
The Commission scolaire de Laval (CSDL) also cancelled classes, although some CSDL professional training centres were open. Also on the North Shore, the Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Iles closed 22 schools and training centres. Some private schools, such as Collège Laval and Collège Letendre closed as well.
Mayor Demers reacts
At one point, Mayor Marc Demers urged residents of Laval to look out for one another. “If you have members of your family – parents, brothers, sisters – who are in a zone that’s lacking electricity, check in on their situation to make sure we’re not forgetting someone in distress,” he said.
Around the middle of last week, 213,000 Hydro Quebec clients in the Laval, the Laurentians and Lanaudière regions were without electric power, with Laval being among the most impacted areas. According to the city, more than 40 per cent of Laval was without power on the day following the freezing rain and ice storm. In addition to no electricity, phone service was also knocked out in some parts of Laval.