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Updated: Mon, 30 Dec 2013 13:56:34 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

New Brunswick winter storm hits during ice storm recovery



Power crews work Sunday in St. George, N.B. Forecasts say southern New Brunswick will be hit by another winter storm. Courtesy of NB Power

Power crews work Sunday in St. George, N.B. Forecasts say southern New Brunswick will be hit by another winter storm. Courtesy of NB Power

Efforts to restore heat and light to more than 3,600 New Brunswick homes and businesses still without power after last week's ice storm have not been made any easier by a winter blast that dumped 30 centimetres in some areas of the province overnight.

The number of outages across the province continued to climb on Monday afternoon, despite the best efforts of NB Power crews.

Several new outages were reported in the Fredericton, Moncton and Sackville areas, bringing the total number of customers without power to about 5,000 by mid-afternoon.

CBC reporter Shane Fowler said from Fredericton that peoplewent through a "collective moment of shock" Monday morning as theylooked out their windows and saw the amount of new snow in the already storm-weary province.

Emergency officials had warned the storm could put more stress on already icy trees and wires and were advising people to be prepared with 72 hours worth of water, food and backup heat.

Additional line and tree-trimming crews were sent to New Brunswick from the other Maritime provinces, Quebec and the United States to assist with efforts ahead of the storm.

"It's great," said NB Power spokesperson Meghan Gerrish. "We're part of the North Atlantic Assistance Group, so we've got support coming from other provinces, which is phenomenal and just what we needed."

NB Power employees have been working non-stop for more than a week — and they're getting tired, said Gerrish.

"Two hundred and fifty-plus crews on the ground. We've also got another few hundred working logistics and managing who's going where and who's doing what and who's coming from where and that kind of thing. So we've got about 500 to 600 people working on this storm. And fatigue is a factor," she said.

The utility hopes to have all customers back online by New Year’s Eve. It has all of the equipment and parts it needs to fix transformers, officials said.

The latest outages are not as complex as the ones caused by the ice storm, they said.

Forecasters have lifted weather warnings for the province, except for a wind chill warning that remains in effect for northern New Brunswick.

Plowing an ongoing challenge

Police are advising people to stay off the roads for their own safety, and to allow crews to clear the streets and highways.

Saint John Transit officials say the roads in the city are a mess. Most side streets have not been plowed and buses are running about 15 minutes late.

The city has declared an overnight snow parking ban for the south/central peninsula, effective 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., to allow plow crews to clear the roads. Any vehicles left parked on the roads will be towed at the owner's expense, the city warns.

In Fredericton, sidewalks were "non-existent," reported Fowler. Pedestrians were resorting to walking along the narrow, snow-lined streets, he said.

Ross Mathers, a spokesperson for MRDC Operations Corporation, the company that operates the Trans-Canada between Fredericton and Moncton, says clearing the snow isn't the only problem crews face. They also have to get rid of it, he said.

"When you put the snow up against the guard rails, you have to blow it. And we start blowing operations as soon as the snow stops. And as you know, it's only been stopped for two days in the last 15 or so. So it's getting to be a problem with roads getting narrower."

Mathers says even though the snow has stopped, motorists should continue to take care. Strong winds will mean blowing snow and poor visibility on slippery roads, he said.

The storm affected flights as well, with some cancellations and delays in Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton, and Halifax.

82,000 lost power

Most of the outstanding outages are in the Rothesay area with about 1,500 customers affected and the St. Stephen area with nearly 800 outages, according to NB Power.

Power was also knocked out for about 800 customers in Fredericton and an equal number in Moncton on Monday.

Premier David Alward warned Sunday that the storm would be followed by "a significant freeze over the next two or three days, is going to test our resiliency as a province, as a people again."

NB Power said that during the last week 82,000 customers — nearly a quarter of its total — have been without electricity at some point.

Some customers in the Rothesay and Quispamsis areas have been without power for more than a week.

In some cases, customers have lost power six times.

"We can certainly understand the frustration," spokesman Brent Staeben said.

"We can also certainly understand a little bit of the confusion for people in terms of how they could gain their power back and lose it again, and lose it multiple times."

Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, urged people to call their local fire department if they need anything. Warming centres will continue to be open, he said.

MacCallum said changes to emergency measures before this storm have improved local operations, but the response was complicated when cell communications were cut.

"That is something where we need to work on more redundancy and we need to find workarounds, which we are finding," MacCallum said.

He urged people to be careful with portable heaters and candles, and warned not to warm up pipes with blowtorches.

He said people should check and make sure neighbours are all right.

Warming centres busy

The power outages are keeping volunteers busy at the Quispamsis warming centre.

Almost 500 people used the service at the qplex, a 75,000 square-foot multi-purpose recreation and conference centre, to warm up, get a hot drink, check the NB Power website and charge their cellphones.

Volunteer Mary Schryer says water is one of the biggest reasons for visiting the centre.

"You know Quispamsis is dependent on ground water and when there's no power, there's no water, and that was really complicating things for a lot of people," she said.

The Quispamsis warming centre moved back to the Civic Centre on Monday morning.

Karla Brown, a volunteer at the Oak Bay warming centre at the firehall, says it has also been a busy spot, offering hot drinks and warm food.

The community response has been overwhelming, she said.

A daytime warming centre is also available at the Lower Greenwich Fire Department.

Warming centres that offer overnight shelter, if required, including cots, blankets and 24/7 staffing include: the Lawrence Station Elementary School, Harvey Health Centre, St. George's Magaguadavic Place, St. Matthews Church in Grand Bay-Westfield, the Simonds Fire Department in the Simonds and Garnett Settlement area and one warming centre at the Sussex Middle School in Sussex.

People can also pick up firewood and kerosene at the warming centres. J.D. Irving has been stocking the centres with the donated fuel.

Bill Lawlor of the New Brunswick Red Cross says the centres will likely remain open until most NB Power customers are back online.

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