TORONTO – Hundreds of thousands of people living in the Greater Toronto Area remained without power Monday after a severe ice storm downed power lines and brought tree limbs crashing onto slippery city streets.
The region appeared to be the hardest hit by a nasty weather system that saw a mix of freezing rain, ice pellets and low temperatures move from southern Ontario to the Atlantic.
Utilities in Ontario were warning residents to brace for the possibility of being without power past Christmas Day as crews worked around the clock to help communities recover.
Kelly Mathews was among those bracing for a Christmas in the cold.
“I’m hosting Christmas this year, starting tomorrow all of my family is arriving,” said the Aurora, Ont., resident who lost power early on Sunday morning.
“I’ve been running everything down from my freezer and fridge to the garage to keep it cold. I had just done all of my food shopping.”
Matthews is hoping her power is back on by Wednesday, but if not plans to move the celebration to the home of her parents in Thornhill, Ont., where the lights are still on.
The head of Toronto Hydro, one of the region’s largest power utilities, said residents should brace for the worst.
“Make plans for a multiple day (outage),” said Anthony Haines. “I hope that doesn’t happen or if it does, that it’s a very limited number of homes that are affected that way.”
The utility had restored power to about 100,000 customers in Toronto by Monday morning, but some 215,000 remained in the dark.
More than 300,000 had no power at the peak of the outage.
While he wouldn’t estimate how many could remain without power through the week, Haines said his worst-case-scenario warning was made in the hopes that people would make alternate holiday arrangements if needed.
“We haven’t been in to some of the communities yet,” he said. “There’s police tape, entire communities are blocked up.”
Haines said, however, that the city appeared to be turning a corner.
“I feel that we’re now winning the war, we’re able to restore more than is breaking behind us.”
The utility had managed to deal with the majority of downed live power lines and was focused Monday on restoring power to major city infrastructure and large “feeders,” which supply power to thousands of customers in some cases.
The last people to get their lights back on will likely be those in homes in residential areas where crews are only able to restore power to one house at a time, said Haines.
Crews from Ottawa and Chatham-Kent were set to come in to help Toronto Hydro on Monday.
Elsewhere in Ontario, Hydro One, which serves 1.3 million customers, said more than 112,000 customers were still without power in smaller towns and rural areas. Power Stream, which serves Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan among other communities, reported 20,600 customers were still down.
Hydro One spokeswoman Tiziana Baccega Rosa said the utility’s numbers keep going up and down because of tree limbs falling on power lines, and warned it could be days before everyone has their electricity back.
“It’s definitely all over the place depending on the area,” she said. “There’s definitely ones into the 24th. We are telling people to prepare for an extended outage.”
Some of the communities served by Hydro One with customers that still don’t have power include Bolton, Bowmanville, Dundas, Guelph, Newmarket, Orangeville, Peterborough, Picton and Walkerton.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Toronto emphasized Monday that Canada’s largest city was not in a state of emergency.
“If the weather and the winds picked up last night and it was worse, then we would have had to ask the province for some help,” said Rob Ford. “Obviously we’re not even close to that situation.”
Although Toronto Hydro had been operating under its own state of emergency due to widespread power outages Ford said he felt he had made the right call.
“Weather changes, like last night we were supposed to have severe winds and rain, that never happened, so it’s hard to predict,” he said. “And you don’t want to cry wolf.”
Ford says the city’s roads are in good shape and most of the transit system is back with full subway service expected to resume later Monday.
Those flying out of the city, however, were still facing numerous flight delays and some cancellations.
The storm system also coated much of southern Quebec in ice, and continues to produce freezing drizzle in parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Some 50,000 customers in Quebec and about 11,000 in New Brunswick are still without power.