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Updated: Sun, 22 Dec 2013 21:36:32 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Ice, snow storm hits Central and Atlantic Canada



An ornament is caked in ice during the Toronto ice storm on Dec. 22, 2013. Eric Foss/CBC

An ornament is caked in ice during the Toronto ice storm on Dec. 22, 2013. Eric Foss/CBC

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the province is prepared to offer "our full support and our assistance" to municipalities pounded by a winter storm, causing extensive delays on the road and in the air in Central and Atlantic Canada, and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands, possibly until Christmas Day.

"I want to assure everyone living in these areas that all available resources are working to keep you and your families safe and to restore power as quickly as possible," Wynne said Sunday afternoon.

Southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes are all affected by the massive weather system, which is coating much of the landscape in ice. 

The storm, which stretches from southern Ontario to the Atlantic Coast, is suspected to have played some factor in four fatal highway accidents in Quebec Friday to Saturday, and another in Ontario. The freezing rain warnings have been lifted in some areas including Toronto, but warnings still stretch from Belleville, Ont., all the way to the Atlantic Coast.

Wynne said she'd reached out to the mayors across the province to offer any support that is needed.

"Emergency Management Ontario has been in contact with affected municipalities and will remain in contact on a regular basis," Wynne said. "If communities need help, we will mobilize necessary ministries to provide it." 

Toronto police closed a one kilometre stretch of Bay Street, in the heart of the financial district, due to ice falling from buildings.

The CIBC building was taped off, and police cars were parked outside the Deloitte office as well as the Toronto-Dominion Centre.

Mayor Rob Ford said earlier that Toronto is not in state of emergency but it's a possibility in the next 24 hours.

"We're not in that situation quite yet," Ford said Sunday afternoon, calling it "one of the worst storms in Toronto history."

Wynne said she spoke with Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. The city had asked for assistance with tree removal as well as Ontario Provincial Police support at the on and off ramps of Highway 401.

Dark Christmas? 

Outages affecting an estimated 380,000 hydro customers were reported in Ontario, including 264,000 in the Greater Toronto Area, as ice-coated tree branches snapped, pulling down power lines.

Ford said the city's top priority is restoring power to two hospitals, Sunnybrook and Toronto East General.

"We must take care of that first and foremost," he said.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said he considers it the "highest level of emergency" at the utility.

There are more than 90 "large-scale outages" throughout the city and it could take up to 72 hours to get everyone reconnected, the utility said in a series of tweets.

Haines said the top priority is restoring power to the two hospitals and the city's water system, all of which are running on back-up power. Crews will then focus on outages that are affecting a large number of customers before moving on to smaller outages.

Haines said it was difficult to pinpoint when power might be restored because the storm is still happening.

He said it's largely the middle of the city that is affected in a line that runs from Etobicoke to Scarborough.

Normally Toronto Hydro would ask for help from neighbouring utilities but they're all dealing with similar circumstances, Haines said.

The number of outages may rise as winds pick up mid-morning.

No streetcar service

Hour-long delays were reported Sunday along some GO Transit bus routes, subways were skipping some stations and all streetcar service in Toronto is suspended. Provincial police are strongly advising people not to drive unless it's absolutely necessary.

There were also reports of a Via Rail train stopped in Acton, Ont., that was scheduled to travel between Sarnia and Toronto. Approximately 400 passengers waited for buses to take them the remainder of their journey.

The weather also forced the closure of the Ontario Science Centre.

Hydro Quebec says about 45,000 customers are without power, mainly in the Estrie and Monteregie regions. There are about 1,500 customers affected in Montreal.

NB Power reports 3,800 customers without electricity, with more than 3,600 in St. Stephen.

CBC reporter Sherry Aske said from Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa that there were substantial cancellations and delays in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. There are also delays and cancellations at the airports in Saint John, N.B., and St. John's, N.L.

"Basically no matter where you are in the [eastern half of the] country right now, if you’re travelling between Canadian cities there’s a very good chance you’re going to have some headaches this morning," she said.

Shorter runway

Aske said scheduled flights from Montreal and Toronto couldn't arrive in Ottawa Saturday night, causing a backlog on Sunday. The weather also means the usable part of the runway is shorter, forcing the airline to bump passengers from planes that are required to be lighter for safe takeoff.

Passengers are being advised to check their flights before heading to the airport.

CBC meteorologist Janine Baijnath said the storm is so large that the type of precipitation varies widely. Environment Canada's warnings include freezing rain, snowfall, rainfall and winter storm, depending on the area.

In Montreal, where there is a winter storm warning in effect, CBC reporter Mathieu Dion said Highway 40 was little used Sunday morning, and vehicles on it were moving slowly.

"The road conditions are really terrible right now," he said.

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