An eastern Ontario farm house on day one of the storm...
Ice storm 98: The aftermath
Human toll By January 18, 1998, 25 Canadians were killed as a direct result of the storm – 21 in Quebec and four in Ontario. The Quebec coroner’s office reported six cases of carbon monoxide poisoning (not surprising as police, firefighters and soldiers discovered people heating their homes with such things as charcoal and propane barbecues). One family was found to have been soaking rolls of bathroom tissue in flammable liquid and igniting them in a coffee can and an elderly man was nearly affixiated as a result of running a fossil fuel-powered generator inside his house. Also included in the report were six cases of trauma (including people hit by snow plows and falling ice), five fire deaths and four hypothermia deaths. Four died in eastern Ontario including one man who fell from his roof while clearing ice. In late January/early February, another three Quebecers died while clearing snow and ice from rooftops.
The economy The Conference Board of Canada estimated January 23, 1998 that the cost of the ice storm will be close to $1.6 billion. The estimate includes damage to the manufacturing, transportation, communications and retailing sectors. (It was expected early on during the event that farmers alone would lose about $25 million.) The storm also affected about one-fifth of Canada’s workers and production capacity, costing individuals more than $1 billion in lost income. The storm also took its toll on payrolls in January 1998, sending the unemployment rate up to 8.9 per cent from 8.6 per cent in December. Statistics Canada said February 6, 1998 that the number of jobs in the economy in January was unchanged following spectacular growth of 366,000 jobs in the previous 10 months. But unemployment rolls grew by 54,000 because of temporary layoffs in areas hard hit by icy conditions. The majority of job losses occurred around Montreal. For the country as a whole, work hours fell six per cent in January from the previous month and the decline was almost entirely attributable to Ice Storm 98. The storm may also have trimmed about 1.5 percentage points off Canada’s gross domestic product for January. Furthermore, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said February 9, 1998 that new housing construction in the country fell off 4 per cent in January thanks to steep declines in Quebec and New Brunswick. Housing starts in those two provinces were off 15.1 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Had it not been for the storm, housing starts would have grown 5 to 10 per cent during the month, CMHC said.
...and on day five
Agriculture On February 3, 1998, a federal Agriculture Canada committee began a hearing into the effect of the storm on agricultural communities located in Eastern Canada. Between one quarter and a third of Canada’s total dairy production was within the affected region, and some 13.5 million litres of milk were dumped during the storm and its cleanup. Also, nearly a fifth of the country’s hogs are farmed in the region. An estimated 140,000 chickens and 8,000 hogs and piglets died because of the storm. One of the hardest hit sectors was Canada’s $120 million a year maple syrup industry. An estimated 60 to 70 per cent of Canada’s producing maple bush was affected by the storm. Some trees will produce sap in 1998 before dying, others are a writeoff and some will slowly recover. But government officials said it could be 20 years before the maple tree canopy returns to its pre-storm state.
Government commissions Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard announced January 28, 1998 the creation of an independent commission to examine the handling of the crisis and the causes that led to the collapse of Hydro-Québec’s transmission system. The six-member commission – led by engineer Roger Nicolet, who presided over a similar inquiry in the July 1996 Saguenay flood – had been asked to table its final report by November 30, 1998. The commission was given a wide mandate, and examined the reliability of the transmission system, the emergency plans initiated in the hundreds of communities affected by blackouts and management of the crisis by the various levels of government. Two other legislative commissions examined the Public Security Ministry’s handling of the crisis as well as Hydro-Québec’s transmission system.
Disaster planning The Quebec government publicly admitted February 3, 1998 that it was overwhelmed by the extent of the ice storm. To make sure it is not caught off guard again it said it would adopt legislation requiring all municipalities to prepare emergency plans. The province’s Public Security Minister said he will also create an auxiliary reserve of more than 600 civil servants to act as a liaison between the province’s civil protection authorities and the municipalities. During the ice storm, the province’s civil protection control centre was understaffed and unable to cope with demands from the many municipalities that needed emergency aid. Of the 733 municipalities hit by the power failure, more than 350 needed relief aid but only half had emergency plans. Barely 50 of these plans were efficient and up-to-date.
Though the provincial government insisted that it maintained order and initiated emergency measures that prevented panic during the crisis, it conceded that it has a lot of improvements to make. These would include the purchase and storage of emergency equipment such as generators, beds and other supplies and the installation of alternate sources of power in strategic areas such as water treatment plants and pumping stations.