Canada Ice Storm Leaves Crews Scrambling to Restore Power

Repair crews are working around the clock to restore electricity to about 445,000 households in Ontario and Quebec after an ice storm snapped branches, brought down power lines and crimped travel in Canada’s two most populous provinces.

In Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, about 227,500 Toronto Hydro customers are without power, down from 244,000 earlier this morning, spokeswoman Vanessa Nero said in a phone interview today. It may take until Dec. 27 to restore power to all customers, she said.

“We’re now tracking a cold front that’s moving in from the west and the winds, we believe, will probably create further damage,” Nero said. Winds are making it difficult for crews to restore power, she said. “The restoration time for most customers is likely not going to be until Friday.”

More than 400 flights were canceled yesterday at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and 62 were canceled today so far, according to the airport’s website. Dozens were scrapped in Ottawa and Montreal yesterday. The storm left up to 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) of ice in the Toronto area and may dump as much as 10 millimeters in southeastern Quebec today, Environment Canada said.

Power has been restored to Toronto’s East General and Humber River Regional hospitals and the Sunnybrook hospital is operating on partial power, Nero said. The Richview water-pumping station has also been restored.

Worst Storms

“This is truly one of the worst ice storms we’ve seen here in Ontario,” Toronto Hydro Chief Executive Officer Anthony Haines said yesterday at a news briefing. Haines said he’s “hopeful” most customers will have power back by Christmas, though he urged residents to “prepare for the worst.”

“Make plans for multiple days” without power, he told reporters at city hall today.

All streetcar service in the city -- on what would have been one of the year’s busiest shopping days -- was suspended yesterday due to icy power lines, the Toronto Transit Commission said. Street car service was restored this morning, while the Sheppard and Scarborough RT subway lines remain closed, the commission said.

Replacing Poles

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said it’s too early to declare a state of emergency.

“We believe that the worst weather is over,” Ford said at a news conference at City Hall. “If things would have got worse overnight then we would be considering calling for a state of emergency but at this time there’s no reason to do that.”

Provincial officials, including those from Emergency Management Ontario, are working with affected municipalities to ensure a coordinated response, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said at a separate news conference yesterday. The Ontario government will provide tree harvesters to cities that have requested help, she said.

“I want to assure everyone living in these areas that all available resources are working to keep you and your family safe, and to restore power as quickly as possible,” Wynne said.

Ice is building up on some transformers, which could trigger “catastrophic” equipment failures, Haines said.

“It’s not just a matter of going in and restoring the power lines,” he said. “Now we’re going to be replacing poles, replacing transformers at the top of some of these poles, so it’s going to be a major event that is going to last days for us to be able to get the power back up.”

Fatal Accidents

Hydro One, another Toronto-based utility, said on its website today that about 113,000 customers had no power.

“Crews are finding tree branches and power lines coated with more than an inch of ice, so restoring power is slow going,” said Greg Towns, Hydro One’s director of lines.

PowerStream, a utility in the York region north of the city’s downtown core, said about 29,000 customers were without power. Enersource, which is based in the city of Mississauga, had about 389 clients affected by the outages according to its website, while Horizon Utilities, in Hamilton, had about 1,500. Veridian Connections said about 12,000 customers were without power in the heavily treed areas around Port Hope, 109 kilometers (68 miles) east of Toronto.

In Quebec, about 54,000 Hydro-Quebec customers were without electricity, the Montreal-based company said on its website. Icy conditions may have played a role in at least three fatal accidents on Quebec roads, Canadian Press news agency reported.

Further east, about 7,837 customers in the province of New Brunswick were without power, New Brunswick Power said.

Exchanges Normal

“Our crews continue to work around the clock and certainly last night in some very difficult conditions,” said Toronto Hydro’s Haines today. “Some of us were out yesterday watching trees literally falling down around us.”

The Toronto Stock Exchange is operating as normal, Carolyn Quick, a spokeswoman with operator TMX Group Ltd., said in an e-mail. Toronto’s downtown financial district, which includes the country’s biggest banks’ head offices, was largely unaffected by the power outages. Canadian debt markets are unaffected and will close tomorrow as planned at 1 p.m., according to Barbara Amsden, spokeswoman for the Investment Industry Association of Canada.

Air Canada, the country’s biggest airline, said yesterday it would waive fees to allow passengers to change flights, space permitting, as the storm affects operations. Via Rail, the country’s passenger rail operator, said it’s not expecting any cancellations, though delays were likely.

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