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Updated: Sun, 22 Dec 2013 23:38:57 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Toronto ice storm 'truly one of the worst' to strike city

An ice storm struck Toronto over the weekend, affecting transit and causing power outages. Andrew Lupton/CBC

An ice storm struck Toronto over the weekend, affecting transit and causing power outages. Andrew Lupton/CBC

The worst ice storm to hit Toronto in recent memory left the city scrambling to recover on Sunday, though Mayor Rob Ford warned that the ensuing power outages and major transit problems may not be the end of it.

Toronto was hit with either freezing rain or freezing drizzle for more than 24 hours, which led to a build-up of ice on old trees that then came crashing down on cars, homes and power lines. Sheets of ice also fell from buildings and flew off vehicles moving along area highways.

Approximately 264,000 customers were without power in Toronto as of 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, according to Jennifer Link of Toronto Hydro. That estimate had remained steady for several hours, though reports of outages peaked at 300,000 earlier in the day.

Anthony Haines, the president of Toronto Hydro, said it was "truly one of the worst ice storms we’ve seen here in Ontario."

More than 100,000 other customers were without power in other parts of southern Ontario, as a result of the same storm.

According to Environment Canada, some 10 to 30 millimetres of ice fell upon the Greater Toronto Area during the storm.

Safety concerns

The combination of power outages and general safety issues left police, city officials and even the premier urging people to stay safe — and to stay indoors if possible.

"If you don't have to go out, it’s better to stay off the roads," Premier Kathleen Wynne said Sunday.

Wynne said she had spoken to mayors across the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday, as well as the deputy mayor of Toronto, to offer them support.

As officials moved to deal with the fallout from the storm, they warned that the problems the city was facing wouldn't necessarily stop with the end of the freezing rain.

"Hydro expects the worst weather still to come, winds are expected to pick up this afternoon," Mayor Ford said Sunday afternoon.

The mayor said hydro crews were doing all that they could to restore power, though restoring power at hospitals was their immediate priority. Toronto Hydro said that both Sunnybrook and Toronto East General were still running on generators on Sunday evening, after losing power during the storm.

Ford said that 20 Toronto Community Housing buildings were without power, which meant that thousands of tenants living in those buildings were affected.

The mayor said he was also without power at his own home in Etobicoke.

Ten warming centres have been made available to give people a place to go if they are without power and need warmth, water and rest.

3 days to restore power

Initial estimates were that it could take up to three days to restore power to all customers in Toronto, which means that some people would be waiting until Christmas to be back to normal.

Ford called on residents to reach out to seniors and others who may need help as a result of the storm.

"We have to manage and we have to help each other out," he said.

Vinny Cristina, 67, was keeping warm under a blanket in her west-end apartment where the power was out on Sunday.

Cristina told CBC News that she has been keeping up to date with her battery-powered radio.

While Cristina has family to stay with, she said she’s worried about those who don't.

On Sunday evening, firefighters responded to a fire on Rustic Road, which apparently started when a resident used a candle to check the fuel level in his generator.

The day ahead

Freezing drizzle was continuing to fall on Toronto by late afternoon. Environment Canada reported there was a 60 per cent chance of flurries or further freezing drizzle in the evening.

Looking ahead to Monday, flurries were expected and Environment Canada projected a daily high temperature of -3 C. But with sub-zero temperatures in effect, the weather agency warns that roads could be icy for several days onward.

The Toronto District School Board has advised that all of its facilities will be closed on Monday, including their child-care facilities, due to safety concerns. The Toronto Catholic District School Board says all of its own facilities and daycare centres will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

The City of Toronto has also advised parents to call ahead before dropping their children off at city-run child-care centres on Monday.

York University says all scheduled exams and classes at its Keele and Glendon campuses tomorrow are cancelled or postponed. The same goes for the Miles S. Nadal Management Centre and the Osgoode Hall Law School Downtown Centre.

Major transit issues in Toronto

The ice storm has also caused major problems for the Toronto Transit Commission, which 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.

A number of subway stations had periods where trains were bypassing them Sunday. By the middle of the evening, there were a handful of stops on the Yonge-University Spadina Line and the Bloor-Danforth line that were experiencing power-related issues. The Sheppard line and SRT were also not running on Sunday.

Andy Byford, the TTC’s chief executive officer, told reporters in the afternoon that bus services were generally running, albeit with some delays.

"The biggest challenge we have — and this is ongoing — is with the streetcar lines," Byford said.

Streetcar service was suspended for much of the day, though the TTC reported late Sunday that streetcars were again running on the downtown 506 Carlton route. Partial service had resumed on the 501 Queen line.

Stranded in Toronto

Some 200 flights were cancelled at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Sunday.

With the cancellations coming just a few days before Christmas, stranded travellers like Bradley Russell were trying to find alternative flights to get them home for the holidays.

"I've got a little boy, he wants me home, so I need to get home," Russell said Sunday, when he should have been flying to see his wife and four-year-old son in Gander, N.L.

"God knows, if weather comes in again, we might not get home probably until the New Year."

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

Outside Toronto

Surrounding cities were dealing with the same issues as Toronto, including downed trees, power issues and slick roads. The OPP reported dealing with dozens of collisions, amid slippery and unpredictable road conditions.

North of the city, power outages were reported in Vaughan, as well as in Markham, Unionville, Aurora, Richmond Hill and Thornhill.

West of the city in Peel Region, there were at least two separate injuries that appeared related to the storm — a 10-year-old boy was hurt when a tree branch fell on the roof of a car he was riding in, while a man in his 60s was seriously injured in a fall that occurred when he was trying to clear branches from the roof of his house.

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