Climate change is a worldwide issue. After the windstorm that whipped through our area in late October, it hit home. Thousands of people were without power for days and countless trees were bro- ken or uprooted in a few seconds. Meteorologists predict that we will face more and more of these extreme weather events.

TBL-Sutton emergency response

The joint Sutton and TBL fire and emergency department was on full alert as soon as the storm hit at 2 a.m. on Monday, October 30th. Eighty km winds and up to 100 mm of rain were expected. Two emergency centres were set up, public works employees were called in because, at a time like this, job number one is to ensure that roads are clear to let emergency vehicles through. Fire Department Chief Don Mireault headed the operations which were set out in a detailed working plan. One of his first interventions was to “free up” an SQ officer caught between two fallen trees, one in front and one at the back of her cruiser on the 139!

Hydro Quebec slower to respond 

“Communication is essential in those situations, explains Mireault, we have to be in close contact with ambulance and police services.” A communications triage person dispatches information by radio to workers in the field where 80 people were deployed all over a territory covering TBL, Sutton, Brome, Abercorn and West Bolton helping clear roads, saw up trees, help and reassure citizens whose property had been severely damaged or sometimes trapped behind wires and inform the public about the situation. “Our communications with Hydro were a problem this time,” says Mireault. “For example, Lakeside Road remained closed for a long time because wires were lying on the road, and no Hydro crew was available to clear it up. In other cases, power was restored while trees were still dangerously leaning on the lines. A few fires occurred because of that. We have to review this. This lack of communications left people without power for a longer time and was also dangerous.”

For its part, Dépanneur Rouge in Knowlton, remained open all night and with its generator, provided the emergency workers with much welcome food and warm drinks.

Hydro Quebec is on the frontline when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of storms. In an inter- view with Tempo, Hydro’s spokesperson for Montérégie and Estrie, Ginette Cantin, explained that broken trees and fallen branches account for 75% of all power outages. Moreover, she explained “more trees will be falling in the coming months because the storm has weakened many of them,” hence the need to clean up dead and broken trees on your property to reduce risks and damage.

The moment the public utility gets a call concern- ing a power failure – whether you can get through or not – it can locate the broken line. It is important to report a power failure by calling 1-800-790-2424. The recently installed smart meters electronically report the location of the interruption of power. If the outage cannot be fixed remotely, a patroller is dispatched to identify the problem and determine what needs to be done. The last storm covered such a wide territory that priorities had to be established. Restoring power is then based on “how to restore power to the largest number of clients with a minimum effort,” says Cantin. There were 150 crews on duty in our area and “the time it takes to get to a location depends on the scope of the event and the type of intervention required. There is no prescribed waiting period” like there is for ambulances.

TBL’s Director-General, Gilbert Arel, expects the clean-up operation to cost the town up to $40,000. A large part of the tab will be picked up by Quebec’s Public Security Department.