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Updated: Fri, 27 Dec 2013 06:39:24 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Ice storm blackout frustrates thousands left in the dark

A hydro crew from London, Ont., works to remove fallen branches from a power line at a house in Oakville. The men came in to assist local hydro crews clean up after last weekend's ice storm. Richard Buchan/Canadian Press

A hydro crew from London, Ont., works to remove fallen branches from a power line at a house in Oakville. The men came in to assist local hydro crews clean up after last weekend's ice storm. Richard Buchan/Canadian Press

It's now been six days since the big ice storm turned off the lights, heat and, in some cases water, to hundreds of thousands of customers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

And frustration is clearly growing among the tens of thousands still without power.

At the height of the storm more than 400,000 customers lost their electricity — three quarters of them in southern Ontario.

About 32,000 Torontonians remained without power early Friday morning, according to Toronto Hydro. Another 7,500 Hydro One customers remained in the dark.

Emergency crews are continuing to work 24 hours a day until all customers have power again. Starting Friday morning, crews are focusing on the city's hard hit east end.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said the remaining customers without power might have to wait longer for it to be restored.

"We're reaching the point now where we expect to be, what I call, at hand-to-hand combat now, which is one truck helping one home," said Haines at a news conference Thursday morning at city hall.

"This last bit ... is going to be heavy lifting [and] at a much slower pace."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said yesterday that she was aware of the growing anger among those who've been shivering in the dark for nearly a week. And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said his "heart bleeds" for those people.

But all three officials insisted everything possible is being done to restore the power, and there's little more they can do other than beg people's continued patience.

More outages likely

Toronto Hydro issued a statement early Thursday evening saying that "customers who are still without power should be prepared for restoration to continue through the weekend, as inclement weather triggers additional outages."

The utility warned of a 12-minute wait time for anyone phoning its call centre to report downed wires or outages.

High winds in the forecast combined with an additional seven centimetres of snow that fell in the area on Christmas Day and Boxing Day mean more outages are likely, Haines warned.

"Toronto's overhead distribution system from end to end would run across Canada twice," said Haines, explaining the enormity of the task that lay ahead of crews in the aftermath of the storm.

"Just restoring those damaged overhead wires has been overwhelming, as you can imagine."

Those with power are asked to leave their porch light on so crews can quickly discern which homes have power.

The ice storm last weekend slammed into southern Ontario before moving east and causing havoc in the Maritimes, and in the northeastern U.S., leaving tens of thousands scrambling to find warmth and a place to spend Christmas on Wednesday.

Haines said Thursday that crews from Hamilton, Hydro One and Brockville would join other out-of-town crews, including Manitoba hydro workers, to bolster efforts.

The cleanup of all the tree branches that have either fallen or been removed, along with other debris, could take four to six weeks. Ford mentioned Scarborough was the hardest hit in the Toronto area, likely because it had more older trees than other parts of the city.

In other parts of the country, crews are still working to restore power in some areas of Quebec and New Brunswick.

There are more than 16,000 people without electricity in New Brunswick. NB Power now says it could be Dec. 31 before electricity is restored to all of its customers.

Environment Canada has also issued a special weather statement for the province, warning a winter storm could bring "significant snow and strong winds" to the area late Sunday and early Monday morning. The storm is expected to hit the southern New Brunswick area the hardest.

In Quebec, some some 2,200 customers are still without electricity.

Safety an issue

People desperate to keep warm have been engaging in some dangerous practices.

The incident follows the death of two people in Newcastle after carbon monoxide apparently seeped into their home from the garage where a gas generator was in use, prompting authorities to caution people against using generators, charcoal stoves and barbecues indoors.

Early Christmas morning, two children and two adults in east-end Toronto were taken to hospital to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, reportedly after the occupants of an apartment were burning coal to keep warm.

The ice storm downed power lines, left trees and roads covered in ice and caused widespread travel delays.

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