Local Authorities Spring into Action
Municipalities organized emergency measures committees, which brought together mayors, counsellors and the heads of the different departments involved in managing the crisis. The committees set daily tasks and established priorities in providing assistance to residents, acquiring generators, managing shelters, etc. In Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, meetings took place at the Claude-Raymond sports complex, which was linked by a walkway to the biggest shelter, at Chanoine-Armand-Racicot high school. The mayor at the time, Myroslaw Smereka, slept in the sports complex during the first two weeks of the emergency. To deal with the crisis, Iberville and Saint-Athanase merged their public security committees. They received a great deal of help from the Beauce region, since its MNA originally came from Iberville. In addition, a “triangle of excellence” was formed between Iberville (the mayor at the time was Jean Rioux), Burlington and Plattsburgh, with the two U.S. cities providing Iberville with firewood and numerous volunteers. The mayors of the three cities forged a close and lasting friendship, which has not diminished 20 years later.
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“The Ice Storm taught me two things. First, Quebecers’ dependence on electricity is extraordinary […] and, second, in a crisis, there are many displays of solidarity but also of egotism and individualism.”
Myroslaw Smereka, Mayor of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu during the 1998 Ice Storm
An official request for assistance was sent to the Red Cross, which collected $11.5 million to help victims. Municipalities could also get government reimbursement for the costs of providing aid to victims, setting up shelters and clearing debris from streets.
One common thread in the stories told to us by people involved in managing the crisis was the difficulty of pulling themselves away from their responsibilities during this arduous and exhausting month. Some had to be forced to take a break to get some rest. These people confided how difficult it was to set aside their duties to take care of themselves when a whole city or town depended on them. The psychological impact of the ice storm on individuals was indeed powerful.