Susan Luxton was looking forward to her family’s annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and planning Christmas dinner for 14 when the power went out four nights ago in Toronto’s tree-lined High Park neighborhood.
Branches from the 100-year-old oak trees that line her street came crashing down, knocking out power lines in one of the worst ice storms to hit Canada’s biggest city. Luxton put her turkey in the trunk of her car to keep it cold and fled to relatives to stay warm.
“We had no power to watch the movie, and the house was slowly getting colder,” Luxton, a 46-year-old writer, said yesterday at a coffee shop where she was keeping warm with her sons, Charlie, 13, and Nate, 10. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t have power for Christmas.”
With at least 177,000 homes and businesses still without power in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick today, and temperatures forecast to dip to minus-14 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s a cold, dark Christmas for many in Eastern Canada.
Toronto has borne the brunt of the storm after freezing rain and snow on Dec. 21 collapsed icy tree limbs onto power lines and disabled transport networks. Crews will be brought in from as far as Michigan and Manitoba to help restore power as families try to salvage Christmas plans.
Power failures were reduced to about 72,000 for Toronto Hydro customers today from a peak of about 300,000 as feeder lines were restored overnight. The last 50,000 homes will be the hardest as crews work house by house to repair downed cables.
“This has been a very challenging four days,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told reporters at city hall today. “We are going to stay here and give you updates every day until we restore all the power.”
There’s still no estimated day for when full power will be restored to the city, Anthony Haines, Toronto Hydro’s chief executive officer, said at today’s press conference.
Twenty-five warming halls at community centers and police stations were opened in the city offering food, beds and warm showers as officials warned against using barbecues or outdoor generators inside.
“It won’t be the same as being at home, but we’re doing the best we can,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters yesterday. Wynne is among the Toronto residents who lost power to her home.
Two people in Ontario died after carbon monoxide from a gas generator entered their home. Calls to emergency services about the deadly gas reached 110, city officials said yesterday at a press conference.
Some residents flocked to hotels for food and shelter. Fadi Chamoun, a transportation analyst with Bank of Montreal, and his wife, Karen, wasted no time decamping with their three children to a room at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York after they woke up without power three days before Christmas.
“We have a lot of trees on our street and it was like a war zone almost,” Karen Chamoun said yesterday in the hotel lobby. “It was a fire hazard, and wires were everywhere.”
The family is on a waiting list for Christmas dinner at the hotel restaurant, whose 1,365 rooms were full yesterday. The Chamoun’s may have to use room service, she said. In the meantime, Lara, 4, Jaden, 2, and baby Kylie, have been taking trips to the toy store on the hotel’s lower level and plan to buy bathing suits for a trip to the hotel pool.
“For them it’s fine,” she said. “It’s an adventure. We’re going to go home and get the toys under our tree and then we’re coming back to this hotel.”
The Eaton Chelsea hotel, which with 1,600 rooms claims to be Canada’s largest, said it was at capacity yesterday after opening 200 rooms that were previously closed for renovations to accommodate the inflow of guests. Customers lined up to check in with pillows in one hand and dogs in the other, said Ken Gruber, director of marketing.
The jump in hotel business may help offset lost Christmas sales. Business dropped 18 percent at the downtown Eaton’s Centre on Dec. 22. Some Toronto malls were closed for lack of power on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Stores extended their hours to make up for lost business, with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) open to 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve at some Ontario locations.
The storm will decrease monthly gross domestic product by less than 0.1 percent, Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s second-largest lender by assets, said in a phone interview.
Aside from Toronto Hydro, regional utilities in the province reported about 64,000 customers without power today. Hydro Quebec had about 14,000 without power, and New Brunswick about 27,000, according to their websites.
David Edwards, 61, a cantor at Toronto’s Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue, had booked a Christmas stay at the Royal York with his wife when their power came back on after one night. He stayed at the hotel and invited friends to use his house.
“We had already packed our car and were ready to drive away,” he said yesterday. “We called a friend of ours who was still in an outage situation, so there were three people sleeping in our house.”