Schools closed, tens of thousands in the dark after strong winds, rain batter Quebec

An archival photo of a Hydro-Québec worker after a wind storm.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
An archival photo of a Hydro-Québec worker after a wind storm. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

More than 200,000 Quebecers were left in the dark and Montreal's light-rail network was down after violent winds and heavy rain pummeled much of the province overnight.

Hydro-Québec crews were still out working to get the lights back on for just under 60,000 customers as of 1 p.m. Thursday.

Most of the outages are in the Montérégie and Montreal regions, followed by the Eastern Townships, Lanaudière and the Laurentians.

The public utility said a total of 470 teams — around 940 workers — will be working to restore electricity as quickly as possible.

Six schools under the Lester B. Pearson School Board, including four elementary schools, are closed Thursday due to the ongoing power outages.

The New Frontiers School Board in Châteauguay, southwest of Montreal, says two of its schools are also closed.

Environment Canada meteorologist Georgina Barradas said a cold and warm front collided, causing sharp changes in temperature.

In Montreal, the temperature dropped from 13 C to -12 C in just a few hours overnight.

"When you lose almost 20 degrees in three hours, that's very impressive, so it was never about a lot of rain, it was never about precipitation, it was mostly about two different air masses," said Barradas

She said heavy winds with gusts of nearly 100 kilometres an hour hit the Montreal area.

Passengers stuck on REM

A power outage resulted in a major breakdown of Montreal's light-rail network, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) Wednesday evening.

Three trains, one of which was empty, were stalled in both directions around 7 p.m., affecting some 100 passengers.

Francis Labbé, spokesperson for CDPQ Infra, which operates the REM, said people were evacuated from one of the trains that was stalled near the Costco in Montreal's Pointe-Sainte-Charles neighbourhood at about 8:30 p.m.

But he said passengers who were on a train stopped in the middle of the Champlain Bridge were trapped there for just over two hours.

"There were strong winds on that bridge and some flying objects were noticed and some objects were thrown on our own rails," Labbé said.

"We had to remove them to get to these customers."

Another train was finally sent to get those passengers and take them to the Panama station on the South Shore.

Labbé said the storm knocked out the REM's backup power source and crews are working to find the source of the problem so it doesn't happen again.

Trains are running as usual again Thursday.

Environment and Climate Change Canada had issued warnings of strong winds and sudden temperature drops for almost all regions of Quebec, including violent westerly winds blowing up to 90 kilometres per hour.

Temperatures are expected to stay well below freezing Thursday.