Volume 91, Issue 57

Friday, January 9, 1998

on the rocks


Deep Freeze: Storms close universities in emergency areas

By Sara Marett
Gazette Staff

An ice storm that has violently swept through areas in eastern Ontario and Quebec has millions of people in life-threatening situations. But as numerous municipalities were declared disaster zones yesterday, thousands of university students found themselves experiencing an extended holiday.

Several schools including the University of Ottawa, Concordia University in Montreal and Bishop's University in Lennoxville were all closed yesterday and will most likely remain closed until Monday as the region prepares to be hit with another round of freezing rain this afternoon.

The unrelenting storm has left over one million homes – almost three million people in the Montreal area – without power and has claimed the lives of six people, explained Hydro Quebec media relations officer Guy Litalien.

Inches of accumulated ice are turning roads into skating rinks littered with broken hydro lines and tree branches and Hydro Quebec does not expect to have power restored to the area for five or six days.

"We are still in a very critical situation of survival and are bracing for higher winds and more freezing rain," Litalien said. He added federal army troops and over 1,000 hydro workers from New England have pitched-in to help clean the frozen mess, but work efforts have been hampered due to tree branches falling on equipment.

McGill University did remain open yesterday, as their downtown location was not hit as severely as Montreal's West End, but communications officer Anne-Marie Bourdouxhe said Thursday that it was doubtful the university will remain open today. "We're touching wood right now," she said. She added many classes were cancelled yesterday and the university urged staff and students not to take the risk of travelling to school.

Meteorologist Paul Delannoy of Environment Canada in Ottawa explained the storm is the worst to hit the area since 1986 when 30 millimetres of rain fell. "We have already received 35 millimetres of rain and are expecting another 16 on Friday – that's almost 50 millimetres, which is two inches of ice," he said.

He added the storm is different from any in the past because it has lasted so long and in the meantime, none of the ice has melted. "Therefore, we are seeing the ice accumulate and this is what causes great damage as it builds up on trees and roofs," Delannoy said.

He added the storm, which began on Jan. 5, originated in the U.S. Appalachian Mountains and at the moment is fixed in its position and therefore not expected to move in any direction until it is over. It will then break apart and move east.

The storm has hit areas as far west as Kingston, where students at Queen's University found themselves amongst thousands without power. Alma Mater Society President Maynard Plant said although the university was closed yesterday, the student centre building did have hydro and served as an emergency centre for many students.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998