Crews clear branches snagged on power lines on a closed road in Brampton, Ont., Monday, December 23, 2013. Hydro companies in the Greater Toronto Area � which appeared to be the hardest hit by the weather system � warned some residents to brace for the possibility of being without power until Boxing Day or later. J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press
Thousands of Canadians are facing a dark Christmas in the wake of an ice storm that hit southern Ontario and Quebec and is now causing havoc in the Maritimes.
In southern Ontario, close to 150,000 customers remained without power as late as Tuesday morning.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, officials rejected the criticism that power wasn't being restored quickly enough.
"So far the progress we're seeing in affected communities is very encouraging," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said.
"We're three days into this and tens of thousands of people who didn't have power — hundreds of thousands of people who didn't have power — have power now and the progress has been remarkable."
Toronto Hydro reports about 85,000 customers are still waiting for electricity — down from a peak of more than 300,000.
The utility says they are working to fix feeder lines to restore power to large numbers of customers before moving on to individual homes.
However, officials said many customers could be without electricity until the weekend. And Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said the situation could get worse.
"I can honestly say I've never paid so much attention to the weather forecast before in my life until I did this week," he said Tuesday morning.
"We're expecting 30 km/h winds today, and so it continues to be one of my big concerns that if we see another weather event with trees that continue to be laden with ice and snow, that we'll get additional damage."
Hydro One said late Tuesday afternoon about 39,000 of its customers outside of Toronto remain in the dark. Earlier Tuesday morning the number was around 60,000.
"Right now we're really watching the weather," CEO Carmine Marcello said. "The wind is picking up and we've noticed that that number creeps up and comes back down, so as it stands now we're making great progress … but it is a long, icy road ahead of us."
The utility put out a call on Twitter asking anyone who runs a restaurant that will be open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to contact them as the crews working to restore power need food.
'Tonight it will be cold'
The power outages combined with the sharp drop in temperatures have left some residents resorting to dangerous measures to stave off the cold.
Two people were killed in Newcastle, Ont., after it's believed carbon monoxide seeped into their home from a gas generator running in the garage. Police say the generator was being used to help heat the house.
"Do not heat your home with devices that are designed for outdoor use, particularly barbecues or outdoor generators," Wynne said.
"I know that people are trying to stay warm but please be careful and do not put yourselves at risk."
Wynne urged residents with wired smoke alarms and CO detectors to ensure they have battery backups in case of a power outage.
Emergency crews in the Toronto area have responded to more than 100 calls because of carbon monoxide exposure.
"Temperatures should warm up starting tomorrow, which will make it a little easier," Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said at a media briefing Tuesday morning.
"But unfortunately tonight it will be cold. Please help seniors and people with disabilities."
The City of Toronto is running a number of warming centres where residents can seek shelter, food or rest.
In Quebec, about 20,000 customers remained without power on Tuesday, largely in the province's Eastern Townships, as technicians worked to fix power lines and other equipment damaged by the storm.
Light snow in the forecast
Special weather statements are in place in much of southern Ontario as temperatures drop.
Temperatures are expected to remain well below freezing until Christmas Day and won't move closer to the freezing mark until the weekend.
"To those who are still without power due to continued challenges in getting the hydro lines up and running, it is advised to seek warm shelter and prepare for the colder than average temperatures that are expected," Environment Canada advised.
"Furthermore, given the well below freezing temperatures, much of the ice will not melt and will likely remain on many surfaces through Christmas and Boxing Day until the end of the week."
The City of Toronto issued an extreme cold weather alert Tuesday morning, advising the city's homeless residents to stay out of the cold and seek shelter. The city's shelters are relaxing any existing restrictions, and additional shelter space is being added wherever possible.
The Greater Toronto Area bore the brunt of the storm on Sunday with between 10 and 30 millimetres of ice accumulation bringing down tree limbs and power lines.
Storm hits Atlantic Canada
Meanwhile, an icy mix of rain and freezing rain that hit Atlantic Canada on Monday played havoc with the electricity grid and hampered travel plans.
N.B. Power said more than 45,000 customers were without power in southern New Brunswick today.
The CBC's Catherine Harrop said from Fredericton Tuesday morning that N.B. Power was facing a tough job.
"N.B. Power is saying they're really struggling because, of course, the crews have to work on ice and they're working with those who can take down tree limbs at the same time as the linemen are working on the power lines. So it's a pretty tricky situation."
In Nova Scotia, NS Power said the number of people without power dropped to about 3,300 by this afternoon.
"[The Maritimes are] still dealing with the remnants of the storm which has given a few days' worth of snow, freezing rain and drizzle in some locals," Kennedy said.
"Tomorrow another system skirts by and Nova Scotia may pick up another two to four centimetres of snow with a light dusting possible in southern New Brunswick."
The storm was expected to hit Newfoundland Tuesday, where residents in some areas were warned to expect as much as 25 centimetres of snow.
Meanwhile, travel in the region was disrupted due to slick roads, while dozens of flights were delayed or cancelled at airports — mainly due to backlogs created by severe weather that also hit Quebec and Ontario.
Passengers were stranded in airports from Toronto to St. John's. Several airlines, including Air Canada, advised passengers to check their flight status before heading to the airport. They also urged passengers to give themselves extra time in case of delays on the road.