The province of Ontario, Canada is routinely exposed to some of the most grueling winter weather known to civilization. That’s one of the reasons behind the push toward underground utilities over the past few decades. Underground engineers have perfected the art of running subsurface utilities, and the government (meaning, the taxpayers) have received financial benefits wherever it has taken place, with lower maintenance costs and fewer labor hours involved in managing an underground “grid”.
In early January 1998, just two years after Ontario put the One Call Centre into effect for underground utility line location, a record-breaking ice storm encased the better part of Canada, from Kitchener, Ontario through Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and also covering parts of New York and New England. 80 hours of freezing rainfall accumulated a thickness of 3 to 4 inches in some places, causing well over $5 billion in property damage.
A Natural Tragedy
The damage to infrastructure was both startling and stark, with the destruction of 130 power transmission towers and the downing of over 30,000 utility poles. Power losses caused some 600,000 Canadians to leave their homes. Over 4.5 million people lost power for some duration of time, which contributed to the 28 fatalities (most due to hypothermia) and 945 injuries caused by the ice storm.
Three weeks after the storm started, there were still nearly three-quarters of a million people without power. Milk processing plants, shuttered and without power, were forced to dump about 10 million liters of milk. The magnitude of the tragedy was not lost on civil engineers and public officials, as buried utilities have replaced the old poles-and-wires approach, protecting both the utilities and the people whose lives depend on them.