TORONTO, Cananda – Frustrations were mounting Thursday as thousands of people in three provinces waited for their power to be restored after last weekend’s vicious ice storm.
Utility companies called for patience and understanding as crews worked around the clock to bring the lights back on for homes that had been without electricity for five days in some cases.
About 78,000 customers in Ontario, 5,000 in Quebec and 19,000 in New Brunswick still didn’t have power on Boxing Day.
The storm hit hardest in parts of southern Ontario, including the Greater Toronto Area, where ice-laden branches snapped off and knocked down power lines.
In Toronto alone, about 54,000 customers remained without power, down from a peak of 300,000 earlier this week.
Toronto Hydro said it had been focusing on efforts that would restore power to the most amount of people in the shortest amount of time, but added that it was moving into the final stretch on Thursday of clearing debris and reconnecting individual homes.
“We’re reaching the point now where we expect to be in what I describe as the hand-to-hand combat element of it, which is really one truck and one service into one home,” said CEO Anthony Haines.
Haines couldn’t, however, offer an estimate as to when the power would be fully restored to everyone.
“The scope of the work continues to grow and there is still is a lot of unknown work,” he said. “We haven’t been in every street yet, by any means.”
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said his “heart bleeds” for those without electricity for the fifth day in a row, and emphasized that getting power restored is the city’s No. 1 priority.
Ford added he doesn’t see anything the municipality could be doing better.
“I know they’re frustrated but we’re doing the best we can,” he said. “The lesson is to be thankful of the staff that we have working for the taxpayers of this great city.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she’s seen first-hand some gaps in the storm response, namely people unaware of where their local warming centres are or if their homes had been reconnected.
“There are certainly some lessons that we are taking from this,” she told reporters.
Wynne — whose own house was without power until Christmas morning — said she knows anger is boiling over for those left in the dark for days.
“I understand that people are getting to those very frustrating moments where they’ve been at this a long time.”
Many Toronto residents without electricity still managed to get on Twitter to vent.
“No signs of any crews working. NO POWER FOR 5 DAYS. Testing people’s tolerance level,” one posted.
“So frustrated, annoyed, broken, fed up. Can’t listen to live reports anymore!!!100 + hrs & still ignored,” said another.
A fresh layer of snow which blanketed roads in the city by Thursday morning was slowing some repair efforts.
A special weather statement was also issued by Environment Canada that 20 to 30 kilometre per hour winds were forecast to hit the Toronto area Thursday afternoon, potentially severing more tree branches and causing more outages.
Hydro One, which serves 1.3 million customers in Ontario, said it was working on restoring power to 13,000 customers.
Smaller power companies immediately outside of Toronto reported about 11,000 of their clients were still awaiting the return of their electricity.
In New Brunswick, NB Power spokeswoman Deb Nobes said about 21,000 customers still didn’t have power, with the largest concentrations in the Rothesay and St. Stephen areas of southwestern New Brunswick.
Nobes said the utility’s crews found they would make a repair but the customers would lose electricity a second time as trees laden with ice continued to fall on power lines.
Environment Canada has issued special weather statements for New Brunswick, as well as P.E.I. and parts of Nova Scotia, calling for snow beginning Thursday and increasing overnight.
Forecasters said a trough of low pressure will form over New England and then track northeast over Nova Scotia, southern New Brunswick, P.E.I. and into Newfoundland and Labrador.
The system is expected to bring a mixture of snow, rain and gusty winds by Friday.
Nobes said the weather could become an additional problem for repair teams.
—with files from Michael Tutton in Halifax and Ben Shingler in Montreal