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Updated: Mon, 23 Dec 2013 15:34:41 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Toronto ice storm may leave thousands in the dark past Christmas



A car that was hit by a fallen frozen tree limb hanging on a power line during an ice storm is seen in Toronto on Sunday. Mark Blinch/Reuters

A car that was hit by a fallen frozen tree limb hanging on a power line during an ice storm is seen in Toronto on Sunday. Mark Blinch/Reuters

Toronto Hydro says it may take until the weekend to restore power to all affected customers in the wake of the ice storm that tore heavy branches from trees, downed power lines and left streetcars standing still.

Some 219,000 customers are still without power as of Monday afternoon, some of whom are unlikely to have the lights on for Christmas.

"We are looking at restoring power right through into the weekend for most customers," said spokeswoman Vanessa Nero.

"We are dealing with a severe situation, many trees down causing grave concern with respect to restoring efforts. But we do have a number of crews … working around the clock as hard as possible to restore power."

Nero said the hardest hit areas from the weekend storm are North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines says there hasn't been an event like this in the city in recent memory.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said the city's main roads are in good shape, and crews are turning their attention to local and side roads.

"We believe that the worst weather is over," Ford said at a media briefing Monday morning.

"We were concerned last night with the high winds and freezing temperatures [but] that did not happen."

Ford said he was right to hold off calling a state of emergency.

"It's my call to declare a state of emergency,'' he said. "I didn't think it was appropriate to call that last night. I waited until this morning. As you can see things are improving so that's where we stand.''

More trouble ahead?

About 120,000 customers were without power in other parts of southern Ontario as of 7 a.m. Monday as a result of the same storm.

Hydro One president and CEO Carmine Marcel said the build-up of ice on tree branches combined with wind and below-freezing temperatures in the forecast has created "a precarious situation" in which more power lines could come down. According to Environment Canada, temperatures in the Toronto area could dip to -10 C Monday night.

CBC meteorologist Colette Kennedy echoed that warning, saying the forecast for the coming days means the possibility of more tree branches falling.

"The wind is picking up from the north to northwest today, up to 20 kilometres an hour, and so because of that and temperatures dropping off even towards tomorrow, it's going to stay cold," she said.

"And that means the ice is going to stay in place for a few days."

According to Environment Canada, between 10 and 30 millimetres of freezing rain fell on the Greater Toronto Area during the storm.

Safety concerns

Toronto Fire Chief Jim Sales told CBC News that his staff have been responding to a large number of calls, many of which are related to power lines that were brought down by the storm.

Sales said firefighters have managed to catch up with a backlog of pending calls, which between Saturday afternoon and early Monday morning were coming in at seven times the normal rate.

But the fire chief said his teams have also responded to calls involving people who had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation and burns as a result of using barbecues to heat their homes.

Sales said that those in need of heat should head to city reception centres and should not do anything to make their homes unsafe.

Late Sunday, firefighters responded to a call on Rustic Road, where a resident had used a candle to check the fuel level in his generator.

Toronto paramedics are also dealing with an increased number of calls, most of which have related to slips and falls on the ice.

A Toronto EMS spokesperson told CBC Toronto that paramedics normally deal with 800 calls on an average day. On Monday, the incoming calls were up 53 per cent from that.

Warming centres open

Both Sunnybrook Hospital and Toronto East General Hospital lost power in the storm, though Toronto Hydro said power at East General Hospital was restored early Monday morning. Ford said he hoped power at Sunnybrook Hospital would be back up and running by Monday afternoon.

Ford said restoring power at 20 Toronto Community Housing buildings was a priority.

Warming centres have been made available to give people a place to go if they are without power and need warmth, water and rest. Officials say 323 people stayed in centres in Toronto overnight.

The Toronto police opened 13 community rooms as additional warming centres on Monday.

Ford said the city is ready to open additional centres if needed.

The city was slated to provide another update at 4 p.m. Monday.

Schools and daycares closed

The Toronto District School Board said all of its facilities, including daycares, would be closed Monday and Tuesday.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board said all of its own facilities and daycare centres will be closed until Tuesday.

York University cancelled or postponed all scheduled exams and classes at its Keele and Glendon campuses. The same goes for the university's management centre on Bay Street its Osgoode Hall Law School Downtown Centre. Humber College also closed its campus and daycare for the day.

The Toronto Zoo, which  is open 364 days a year and usually closes only on Christmas Day, is closed for "inclement weather."

TTC updates

The ice storm caused major problems for the Toronto Transit Commission, which on Sunday had to deploy shuttle buses to move people along streetcar lines that were shut down and portions of the subway lines where service had been stopped.

Here's the update for Monday:

- Streetcars are running again but customers are advised to expect delays.

- Subway service was down between Woodbine and Kennedy stations on the Bloor–Danforth line, but was restored on Monday afternoon.

- At the start of Monday, there was no service on the Scarborough RT line, though it later opened. There is still no service on the Sheppard subway line — shuttle buses are filling the gap.

- Subways were initially not stopping at North York Centre Station on the Yonge-University-Spadina line, but full service was restored on Monday afternoon.

- GO Transit is operating on an adjusted winter schedule today.

A handful of cancellations and delays were reported at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Monday morning, a day after some 200 flights were cancelled on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

Via Rail was advising customers to expect delays on trains moving along its Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal routes.

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