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“As we reconnect customers who had lost power, others are experiencing outages,” says chief executive Sophie Brochu.

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Power outages caused by the winter storm that started sweeping across Quebec Friday morning may last until at least Tuesday for some customers, Hydro-Québec said on Saturday.

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About 259,000 customers were without power as of 12:46 p.m. Saturday due to more than 2,600 separate outages. Close to 56,000 of those are in Quebec City, compared with about 36,000 in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and more than 22,000 each in Mauricie and the Laurentians.

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Although Hydro-Québec crews have managed to reconnect about 200,000 customers since 4 p.m. Friday, an equivalent number have lost power in the interim due to high winds, Hydro-Québec chief executive Sophie Brochu said. Record gusts of up to 125 kilometres an hour were recorded in Quebec City, said Régis Tellier, Hydro-Québec’s vice president of operations and maintenance.

“We’re in a game of snakes and ladders,” Brochu told reporters Saturday via videoconference. “As we reconnect customers who had lost power, others are experiencing outages. This means that collectively, we need to have a lot of patience and resilience. You must know that we are doing everything to reconnect people as soon as possible.”

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Some 1,200 Hydro-Québec employees and contractors are working 16-hour shifts to restore power, Brochu said. Some teams will work overnight on patrol work, she said.

“Obviously the new outages that happened overnight complicated a little bit the work that has to be carried out,” Éric Fillion, Hydro-Québec’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in Montreal. “By end of day, we should be able to give you a better forecast. It’s unfortunate but definitely there will be customers without power Monday and Tuesday.”

Besides Quebec City, Côte-Nord, Chaudière-Appalaches and Gaspésie are among the areas where winds have been the fiercest, Hydro-Québec executives said. Several roads have been closed, such as Highway 138 between Baie-Comeau and Sept-Iles, which makes it more difficult for crews to reach transmission lines.

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Outages in western Quebec are “pretty much behind us,” Fillion said. “On the east coast, there are still new outages happening.”

Ice storms in the Côte-Nord region have forced three transmission lines offline, said Fillion. While the temporary loss of those lines isn’t affecting Hydro-Québec customers in the province, it does limit the company’s ability to export power, Fillion said.

Crews will be dispatched by helicopter whenever possible to inspect the transmission lines, which stretch across hundreds of kilometres, far from cities and villages, Fillion said. Current weather conditions are preventing helicopters from taking off, but executives are hopeful that flights will resume Saturday afternoon, he said.

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“It’s possible that some lines are down. It’s possible that there are other damages to our equipment, but at this moment we are not able to confirm this,” Fillion said.

The complexity of the situation means that it’s difficult for Hydro-Québec to be specific on when power will be restored. The company should be in a position to confirm approximate delays by end of day Saturday, Fillion said.

“Obviously we work as fast as possible, but safely,” he said. “That’s the prime focus.”

Hydro-Québec’s first priority is to handle 911 calls, Tellier said. Restoring power to key clients such as hospitals, retirement homes and municipal facilities such as water processing plants comes next.

One quarter of total outages are currently affecting fewer than five clients, and half of outages are affecting fewer than 20 customers, Fillion said.

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“What’s difficult with a situation such as the one we are dealing with across Quebec is that we have a lot of small outages that are affecting a small number of clients,” he said. “It requires a lot of teams on the ground to address these issues.”

Prudence is also in order. Brochu asked motorists to slow down when they pass Hydro-Québec crews by the side of the road. She also advised Quebecers to stay well away from downed power lines.

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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Power outages may last until Tuesday for some Hydro-Québec customers

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