March 18, 2008 / 1:21 AM / 10 years ago

Quebec children get holiday as snow piles on roofs

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Several dozen schools were expected to remain shut this week in the Canadian province of Quebec over fears their roofs may collapse under the weight of near record amounts of snow, officials said on Monday.

<p>A worker clears snow from in front of a building in downtown Montreal, December 3, 2007. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>

Administrators at Montreal’s French-language school board said only 73 of the roughly 200 schools shut since Friday will reopen on Tuesday.

Some of the others may not open until after the four-day Easter weekend, which begins Friday.

“The objective, of course, is to open the maximum of schools but at the same time to proceed carefully because we want there to be zero risk,” school board president Diane de Courcy told reporters.

All told, 90,000 students have been out of school in the Montreal area since Friday.

Primary and secondary schools and adult education centers will reopen only once their roofs have been cleared of snow and the buildings have been inspected for structural safety, de Courcy said.

Four people have been killed in the mainly French-speaking Canadian province of 7.6 million after roofs collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow, though none of the incidents involved schools.

In Shawinigan, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of Montreal, a 55-year-old man died on Saturday when the roof of his home collapsed.

Three women were killed in Morin Heights north of Montreal last Wednesday when part of a food warehouse roof caved in under the weight of snow.

To date, some 350 centimeters (138 inches) of snow has fallen in the Montreal area, approaching a record level of 383 centimeters (150 inches) set in 1971.

Despite periods of rain over the past few weeks, some school roofs have three meters (10 feet) of accumulated snow, school board officials said. About 300 workers were using shovels, scoops and even chainsaws to cut through the snow and ice.

There has been even more snowfall in Quebec’s outlying areas. The Mont Orford ski hill about 120 kilometers (75 miles) to the east of Montreal has had 527 centimeters (207 inches) of snowfall since the beginning of the season.

Those seeking updates on the Montreal school closures can visit the school board’s Web site at: www.csdm.qc.ca or call 514-897-4444.

Reporting by Robert Melnbardis; Editing by Peter Galloway

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