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Emergency Measures: Warm and Cozy…with 1,000 other People

Not having adequate heat forced thousands of people out of their homes. Beginning on January 6, local authorities began to requisition schools to be converted into temporary shelters. As they become full, additional shelters opened up.

In the beginning, although the authorities could not predict the magnitude of the disaster, they had to make sure that shelters were equipped with beds, blankets and everything people needed to maintain minimum levels of hygiene; access to showers could be organized later. Several firms supplied essential items such as camp cots, toilet paper, Advil and sleeping bags. Managing the logistics of this was an immense task for the authorities. The proximity to strangers, the large numbers of children and the lack of beds caused sleeping problems and irritability. To keep people’s spirits up, some performers organized “comfort tours.” Dozens of celebrities, including Kevin Parent, Anthony Kavanagh, sixty musicians from the MSO, the group Beau Dommage, the actors from Les Boys, Canadiens hockey players and many others visited the shelters to entertain victims. To avoid attracting crowds, they did not announce in advance where they were going. The shelters were managed and run by many volunteers, most of whom were ice-storm victims themselves.

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The situation in seniors’ homes was just as bad, if not worse. Residents were usually moved into an overcrowded  common room, where it was warmer. Such conditions were highly conducive to the spread of disease and often seniors had to be transferred temporarily to other centres or hospitals outside the affected area. In Saint-Luc, the Des Prés-Verts school became a shelter for individuals with decreasing independence (e.g. the severely disabled and frail elderly). During the ordeal, soldiers from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry of Edmonton managed the shelter and looked after patients.

” I think that, for me, the most striking thing was the volunteers […] and everyone who got involved.”

Normand Lefebvre, Mayor of Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville during the 1998 Ice Storm