12/24/2013 06:10 EST | Updated 02/23/2014 05:59 EST

N.B. Power Races To Restore Electricity For Christmas

Thousands of New Brunswickers face the prospect of Christmas without power as N.B. Power crews scramble to repair a battered electricity grid in the southern part of the province.

Back-to-back storm systems that brought a series of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain to the province since Friday, took down tree limbs and power lines unable to bear the weight of the frozen precipitation.

As Dec. 24 dawned, more than 49,000 customers were affected by N.B. Power outages, only about 5,000 fewer than Monday's peak. By noon Monday, the number had been reduced to about 44,000.

N.B. Power says it could be Saturday before everyone's electricity is restored.

"We certainly hope to restore a good portion of our customers by late tomorrow, but some will go probably as long as Saturday," said N.B. Power president Gaetan Thomas.

The Rothesay area east of Saint John had the greatest number of customers without power at almost 20,000 on Tuesday morning. The St. Stephen area in the southwest of the province was also hard-hit with almost 11,000 customer outages.

The first power outages hit both Rothesay and St. Stephen on Sunday at the leading edge of the freezing rain storm.

In Saint John, an unknown number of Saint John Energy customers were affected by an ice-related outage in the area of Westfield Road to Ketepec, Beach road, Balmoral Crescent, Lorneville Road and Golden Grove Road. There is no estimated time for restoration of service.

Fredericton had more than 8,100 N.B. Power outages reported Tuesday morning while in the Sussex area, the number grew to more than 6,300.

Moncton had almost 4,000 outages as the day began and about 250 customers were affected in Sackville.

"It's really a battle out there," said N.B. Power spokesperson Deborah Nobes. "This is a really extreme, severe weather event that is causing a lot of damage to our systems.

"Our crews are going at it with everything they've got, but it's very complicated and challenging to resolve."

About 100 crews are on the ground trying to restore power, working 14-hour shifts.

Nobes said the utility hopes to reconnect a lot of customers by late Dec. 24 and more on Christmas Day, "but some will have to wait until Saturday to be reconnected."

"We understand this is a terrible time, probably the worst time you can have to be without power," said Nobes. "

"I know lots of people probably have people in their homes and fridges full of food, and we do ask for their continued patience as we work through this very, very difficult situation.

"It's just going to take some time to get through it."

Some power crews are coming from Nova Scotia to help with the reconnection effort. But Nobes said circumstances have prevented crews from New England and other provinces from lending assistance, as is often the practice.

"They are in exactly the same situation as we are. They are trying to take care of their own outages.

"We are coping as best we can."

Warming centres have opened in Quispamsis, St. George, St. Andrews, Hampton, Harvey, and Grand Bay to provide shelter for those who need it.

In Quispamsis, the warming centre opened Tuesday morning in the civic centre.

"Anybody is welcome to come there and to warm themselves up," said Mayor Murray Driscoll. "That will be more fully equipped as time moves on through the day."

In St. George, people who need water – necessary to flush a toilet without a powered well pump, among other things – can go to the fire department to fill some buckets.

Sean Morton, the town's fire chief and head of the local EMO effort, said there are other complications in St. George.

"We're encouraging people to conserve as much water as they can," he said. "On top of everything, our town works crew has been out. They had to fix a water break yesterday and there is another one going on that they need to tackle this morning."

In St. Andrews, the warming station is located in the DFO biological station, while in Hampton, one was opened in the Ossekeag Room of the local arena. Along with water being available, power outlets are available for anyone needing to charge a cell phone.

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