Walking was risky during the ice storm. Streets and highways were strewn with broken branches and power lines, trees were threatening to fall onto the pavement and traffic lights weren’t working. Montréal’s South Shore became even more isolated when all the bridges closed on January 9, due to falling ice. The Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge-tunnel was the only way across the river between the South Shore and Montréal.
After the storm, all the ice had to be removed. Residents started chipping the coats of ice off their cars. Cities tackled sidewalks, streets and municipal buildings. Businesses began to deice their buildings, while the government worked on roads and bridges. Hydro-Québec set to deicing undamaged distribution and transmission lines.
Students didn’t go back to school after the holidays. And their parents were off work because of the outages. Downtown Montréal was plunged into darkness on January 9. Virtually all banks, businesses and stores were closed. Families, also without power, remained calm.
The widespread blackout raised three pressing concerns: how to light your home, how to eat and how to keep warm. Candles, flashlights and batteries settled the lighting problem. People made do with food that could be heated in a fondue pot or cooked on a barbecue. And to keep warm, thick blankets, generators and slow-burning stoves did the job.
Power outages were a big worry for farmers in the triangle of darkness. The health of their herds depended on light, heat and relative humidity. To protect their livelihood, they needed generators, which Hydro-Québec provided to many of them. Obviously, no shelters were equipped to accommodate cattle.
On January 11, Premier Lucien Bouchard appealed to the public to take in friends and relatives from the disaster areas. The temperature plummeted, and power wasn’t about to be restored anytime soon. That’s when Quebecers really became aware that it wasn’t a just matter of hours, as they had first thought.
Shelters with heat, light and showers were quickly set up. Anyone who couldn’t stay with friends or family was welcome. Volunteers pitched in to assist municipalities and civil society organizations. Their size and available services made schools a natural location for shelters. Some kids found themselves back at school despite everything—but with no classes or homework.
With the temperature dropping constantly—to about -20°C—personal safety was a growing concern. Fire fighters, police officers and soldiers were going systematically from door to door in disaster areas to check that people were using safe and effective heating systems and to find anyone who might be vulnerable (seniors, sick people and children). When they found an alarming situation, they recommended that people go stay with relatives or friends or move into a shelter.
Although most disaster victims were on forced leave, many had to go to work. Some got involved in community life. There was a lot to do: set up shelters, find cots, gather blankets, prepare meals and keep disaster victims busy.