cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Fri, 27 Dec 2013 21:55:13 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Ice storm blackouts frustrate tens of thousands



Hydro One worker Sean Williams works from a bucket as his crew work to restore power to a house in a Scarborough neighbourhood on Friday, December 27, 2013. Chris Young/Canadian Press

Hydro One worker Sean Williams works from a bucket as his crew work to restore power to a house in a Scarborough neighbourhood on Friday, December 27, 2013. Chris Young/Canadian Press

Frustration is growing among the tens of thousands of people still without power nearly a week after a big ice storm turned off the lights, heat and in some cases water to customers in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Authorities are pleading for patience as hydro crews work around the clock, but some utilities warn that certain homes and businesses may not get their electricity back until the new year.

There are also concerns that wind gusts expected in some communities could bring down ice-laden tree branches, potentially cutting power to more customers.

In Ontario — where about 600,000 customers lost power at the height of the storm — more than 40,000 customers remain without power. Of those, 25,000 are in Toronto.

The nearly weeklong outages have left some residents wondering what's taking so long.

"There's no communication," Toronto resident Rick Medeiros said.

"I mean, it's great that there's a warming centre, but if you don't have a TV or a radio that works, how are you going to know that there's a warming centre? How are you going to get there? If you're maybe disabled, who's been around to knock on the doors and say, 'Are you OK?'"

Eric Onisiforou, who lives in the city's Scarborough suburb, hasn't had electricity since the storm hit over the weekend. Though he is staying elsewhere, Onisiforou told CBC News it's been a "very difficult" six days.

"There was no Christmas for me. There was no holidays," he said.

"I haven't seen any [hydro crews] here. The place is deserted. The houses are dark. There is no people around, so it appears that everybody moved out."

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said Friday morning that crews continue to work around the clock with the assistance of utility crews that have come to the city to help. "So we are making good progress.

"We feel for these customers and we understand that their lives have been turned over as a result of this storm, and we are working as hard as possible and we will not stop until the lights are on for everyone."

Additional damage expected

Officials say additional outages are possible because of inclement weather in the forecast for Friday night. 

"Our biggest concern is tonight we might have wind gusts over 40 km/h," Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said at a media briefing Friday morning.

"That's going to cause problems."

The high winds combined with an additional seven centimetres of snow that fell in the area on Christmas Day and Boxing Day mean additional challenges for crews working to restore power.

"I'm most concerned that with these wind gusts that are expected over the next 24 hours, that additional damage will be done," Haines said.

"And as we begin to see melting into tomorrow and the next day, that is likely to result in additional electrical damage that occurs.… In fact, we expect to have additional damage over the next 24 and 48 hours."

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

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

Another storm hitting most parts of eastern Newfoundland Friday is expected to dump as much as 20 centimetres of snow on the region with wind gusts of up to 70 km/h.

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

There are about 14,000 people without electricity in New Brunswick. NB Power now says it could be Dec. 31 before all of its customers get electricity back.

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 4,000 customers — the majority of them in the province's Eastern Townships — are still without electricity. A Hydro-Québec spokeswoman said most customers should have their power back on by Friday evening.

Safety an issue

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

In Newcastle, Ont., east of Toronto, two people died after carbon monoxide apparently seeped into their home from the garage, where a gas-powered generator was in use. That prompted authorities to caution 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.

more video