Massive power outage as ice storm hits region

WATERLOO REGION — Lights slowly started turning on at homes across the region Friday evening after thousands experienced a power outage due to the ice storm the night before.

Three townships — Wellesley, Woolwich and North Perth — declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, expecting the outage to continue into today.

Anticipating potential evacuations from homes, the townships established warming centres where residents could escape the cold.

However, hydro crews were able to restore power for most customers by Friday evening.

An update from Waterloo North Hydro spokesperson Lauren McGirr at 9 p.m. said only a few hundred customers — the majority in southern areas of Elmira — remained without power.

In the townships — which saw the most downed trees and outages — power began turning back on at 5 p.m. for the St. Clements, Heidelberg and Central Elmira areas.

Areas in northern Wellesley, St. Jacobs and Conestogo were also restored by 9 p.m.

Almost all areas in the city of Waterloo were restored, with only some Regina Street residents continuing to experience outages.

Ann Girling, a St. Clements resident, was glad to discover her power was back on just after 5 p.m. Friday after it had gone out at about 2 a.m.

“It could have been worse,” she said. “We were kind of prepared for it, we have a generator. . . . We have a fireplace upstairs so most of the house stayed warm.”

But she and her husband Andy still have a lot of cleaning up ahead of them.

Branches from a tree on their property fell, crushing their back deck, barbecue, gazebo and breaking a window.

The damage caused by this type of weather is a concern all residents should be wary of in the future, said Jason Thistlethwaite, the director of the Climate Change Adaptation Project at the University of Waterloo.

“An event like this does speak volumes for everyone needing to have an emergency preparedness plan of their own, having batteries around, having flashlights around,” he said.

Despite differing views on global warming, it’s hard for anybody to dispute data showing rising temperatures, which increase the likelihood of extreme storms, he said.

“There is a longer-term trend that we’re experiencing here in North America where the weather is getting more volatile ... so you’re going to get these really interesting mixtures of weather that we saw today,” Thistlethwaite said.

Despite the damages Girling experienced at her home, she said she was content with the outcome, adding that neighbours in her area helped one another with cleaning up through the day.

“Everyone has pulled together, helping out with chainsaws and generators,” she said.

Calvin Kuepfer, owner of Country Style Meats in Wellesley, also found help from neighbours in managing the power outage. “People were very helpful. . . . One guy brought me gas because I couldn’t get any gas for the generator,” he said.

Although a power outage can mean a great deal of losses for a food retailer, Kuepfer said none of his products were damaged because he was able to set up the generator early enough in the day.

Pym’s Village Market was also able to keep their products cold until power was restored shortly after 5 p.m.

“We were fortunate that there was very little loss of food,” said owner John Pym. “I was amazed how quickly it (the power) came back.”

The long wait for power to be restored in the townships was due to a vast, spread-out network of downed lines. Delays in fixing main Hydro One lines feeding into the townships also complicated repair efforts.

Waterloo North Hydro provides power to about 55,000 customers in Waterloo, Wellesley and Woolwich, and about 29,000 — or more than half of their customers — were without power, said spokesperson John Janzen.

He said crews were out since late Thursday night and about 30 people were working Friday afternoon to restore power lost because of downed trees and power lines as result of the freezing rain.

For the few who remained without power in the townships, warming centres at the Woolwich Memorial Centre and Linwood Community Centre remained open overnight. Red Cross provided support in setting up the centres.

The power outages also led to the closing of Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, the Waterloo campus of Conestoga College and many schools on Friday.

Several roads in the township were closed because of downed power lines.

In Kitchener and Wilmot Township, about 1,500 people were without power Friday, mostly in the township, said Wilf Meston, vice-president of operations for Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro.

Meston said most of the power would be restored by late Friday.