Michael Drouin was talking on the phone, using his wireless headset, and driving 100 km/h over Quebec City's Pierre Laporte bridge yesterday when, without warning, his windshield shattered — showering him in snow, water and tiny bits of glass.
Drouin's truck is one of at least five vehicles damaged by falling ice from the region's busiest bridge since Tuesday, provincial police said.
Quebec's Transport Ministry began de-icing the bridge last night, closing three of the bridge's six lanes for several hours Wednesday. All lanes are now open to traffic.
'That could have been the end of me'
When the ice fell on Drouin's truck, he didn't know what hit him. The landscaper, who had been en route to meet a client, thought a piece of concrete had fallen from the bridge's overhead structure.
Then he saw the thick chunks of ice on his passenger seat.
He peered through the gaping hole in his windshield to steer the truck down the centre lane and off the city's busiest bridge.
"I was really lucky because I managed to stay in my lane," said Drouin. "I thought right away, 'My God, I nearly died.'"
"That could have been the end of me."
The vehicle is a complete write-off, its hood and fender also smashed.
Drouin escaped with multiple tiny cuts to his face, arms and body.
He believes he avoided serious injury thanks to two things: the fact that he was driving a pick-up truck rather than a small car, and the fact that he was wearing glasses.
"I could have lost my eyesight, for sure," he said.
30-storey climb to smash ice with hammers
Quebec's Transport Ministry does monitor the bridge for ice build-up, spokesperson Guillaume Paradis said, but conditions can change quickly with even a small change in weather.
"The moment they announce freezing rain, we are very cautious," Paradis said, "but the bridge is still very long, and there are many variables."
Transport Ministry workers began clearing the ice off the suspension bridge's vertical cables on Tuesday.
That night, to clear ice from the main cable that runs across the bridge, workers climbed the equivalent of thirty storeys above the Saint-Lawrence River to smash it with wooden hammers.
It is a delicate operation, but it's the only way to remove ice build-up from the bridge, Paradis said, although it's the first time workers have had to do it in five years.
Government to pay for damage
Drouin and others whose vehicles were damaged by ice can file a claim for damages via the ministry's website, although Transport Minister Laurent Lessard said his ministry won't wait for Drouin to do that.
"We've got his name and we're going to call him," said Lessard. "We'll reach out to him to make sure he's compensated for the damage."