Skip to main content

George Moffatt stands among wreckage at his friend’s farm after a major storm destroyed a barn, in the community of Cheney in Ottawa, on May 23.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The death toll from the deadly storm that ravaged large swaths of Southern Ontario and Quebec on Saturday has risen to 10, with hundreds of thousands still without power as of Monday afternoon.

Police in Peterborough, Ont., confirmed Monday afternoon that the latest of 10 victims, a 61-year-old man in nearby Lakefield, was killed during the storm after being hit by a falling tree.

David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, acknowledged the storm did not come as a surprise. Less than a day before, a tornado hit northern Michigan, killing at least two and injuring dozens.

“These are not sneak attacks. It moved in and brought all the telling signs that it was going to be a rip-roaring, nasty kind of weather event,” he said.

The form of the storm was fairly regular. Called derecho storms, these wind events are not like tornadoes that twist, he said. Instead, they skip and jump across the countryside in a line, all moving in the same direction.

“We can spot these things with radar and satellites, automatic weather stations and super computers,” he said. “Canadians have probably never been safer.”

Despite this predictability, the growing list of casualties is raising questions on social media about whether Environment Canada’s storm notification system arrived soon enough. Many say the alert came to their phones just minutes before the storm struck.

Mr. Phillips said this is because the government must follow a predetermined set of guidelines in updating its website and sending out “broadcast intrusive” alerts, which interrupt television and radio broadcasts and send texts to cellphones.

“There’s always this criticism: ‘Did they get the alert soon enough?’ Nobody sat on the alert,” Mr. Phillips said. “You don’t want to be sending out weather warnings for every event or people are going to tune you out.”

According to Gerald Cheng, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada, the Michigan storm was not related to the Ontario system and therefore not significant enough to raise alarm bells.

However, Environment Canada posted a severe storm warning on its website for communities in southwestern Ontario, including Goderich, London, Stratford, Sarnia, and western Lambton County, around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Mr. Cheng said. It did not post a severe storm warning for Toronto to its website until 12:30 p.m., nor for eastern cities until later, as the torrent moved eastward.

As for the text alerts, Mr. Cheng said Environment Canada was required to wait until the weather had reached a minimum threshold of either 130 kilometre-an-hour winds or “baseball-sized” hail. The warning team first saw the threshold reached at 12:23 p.m. at the Kitchener-Waterloo airport and the first text alerts were sent out seven minutes later, he said.

“Could we have done more? We should always ask that,” Mr. Cheng said. “I think it’s important to remember that alerts are just one method of staying informed. When the dark clouds start rolling, it’s time to seek shelter right away,” he said.

Since the storm, Canadians across Ontario and Quebec have been left with major damage to their properties from falling trees and debris.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who has been touring the city’s urban and rural areas to survey the damage, said he’s been struck by the size of the affected area.

“This storm really hit every part of the city of Ottawa. There’s not really one part that escaped,” he said Monday afternoon in an interview. “Downtown seemed to be a little less impacted than the east, west and south end, but we’re seeing pretty significant destruction.”

Mr. Watson said Ontario party leaders, who are campaigning in the provincial election, have called him to offer their support. He said the cost of repairs will be substantial, in part because of the large number of workers who have been called in to assist during a holiday long weekend.

“We’ll worry about the finances later. There’s going to be a significant cost obviously to the city,” he said. “But, you know, the public expects us to do this. This is not the time to penny-pinch. It’s to get the systems up and running so people can get some sense of normalcy.”

Andrew Bartucci, a spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said it will take about 45 days after the storm before the industry has an initial cost estimate of the damage.

According to the bureau, which represents Canada’s private home, auto and business insurance companies, damage from wind is usually covered by home insurance policies.

Following the recent storm, the bureau pointed to a tip sheet on its website on the kind of damage that is typically covered by home insurance, although only individual insurance representatives can confirm details.

The tip sheet said losses caused by flying debris, falling branches or trees are commonly covered. Vehicle damage from wind or hail is usually covered if the owner has comprehensive or all-perils auto insurance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bill Blair, the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, both issued statements over the weekend to express concern and offer federal assistance if needed.

Annie Cullinan, a spokesperson for Mr. Blair, said Ottawa had not yet received a formal “request for federal assistance,” which is an official process for provinces or territories to seek help in the event that an emergency overwhelms provincial resources.

In Ottawa, one of the areas that was hardest hit by the storm, the majority of people who lost power on Saturday were still waiting Monday for the lights to come back on.

A city map showing power outages across the city remained a sea of red. At its peak, 180,000 customers were without power. That number had been reduced to 110,000 by midday Monday.

Hydro Ottawa said on Monday that reinforcement crews will be arriving from the Greater Toronto Area, Kingston and New Brunswick, but that the restoration efforts “will be lengthy” because of the extent of the problems workers are facing.

“The level of damage to our distribution system is simply beyond comprehension,” Hydro Ottawa said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We’re managing this from a whole of the city perspective given that no single area of the city is unaffected in some manner.”

The public and Catholic school boards in Ottawa announced that schools will be closed on Tuesday owing to the storm. Mr. Watson also urged all residents who can work from home to do so, in part because some traffic lights remain out in the city.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.