About 30,000 customers in Ontario and New Brunswick remain in the dark one week after a major ice storm blanketed Central and Atlantic Canada, and warming temperatures have caused new power outages in Toronto.
Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said early Saturday that melting ice falling from trees and other structures has led to fresh damage. At about 1 a.m. ET the number of customers without power had dropped below 20,000 for the first time, but by 8 a.m. it was back up to around 23,000. The number is hovering at 18,000 as of mid-afternoon Saturday.
"Over the morning hours we’ve been moving backwards, but I’m sure our crews will attend to those and we’ll start moving in the right direction again over the next couple of hours," he told CBC News Network.
The falling ice caused at least one injury when a Hamilton worker was struck in the head, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said. Officials couldn't provide an update on the worker's condition.
"This is Day 7 and there's light at the end of the tunnel," said Ford in an interview with CBC News midday Saturday. "What that day is, I can not tell you...We're trying our best."
In response to the backlash the mayor and other officials have received from people still without power, Ford said "it tears my heart out."
"We have crews from Ottawa, we have crews from Windsor," he said. "I share their frustration...it's all hands on deck [and] we are moving as fast as we can."
Haines said computer simulations have shown three days, but that there are variables at work like the new outages and the arrival of more crews. The provincial utility, Hydro One, said the outages outside Toronto are largely over, which has allowed it to send crews in to help the city.
“I’m hopeful certainly by the early part of next week the vast majority of customers will be back," Haines said.
Working around the clock
Haines, who noted that the average Toronto Hydro customer is equivalent to 2½ people, said he sympathizes with people.
“What we can do is work around the clock and we can bring extra resources in from far and wide ... we will not stop until the power is on for everybody," he said.
Haines and Toronto Community Housing CEO Gene Jones (who is still dealing with outages in about 80 housing units) said they will perform a postmortem after the outages are over to see what they might do better next time.
Haines stressed the enormous scope of the damage:
- Forty per cent of the city's power lines, which would cross Canada twice, have been affected by the storm.
- Thirty-thousand pieces of equipment have been installed back into the grid and about 47,000 metres of cable have gone back up into the air.
- The City of Toronto says about 20 per cent of the city's tree canopy has been damaged and it could take seven weeks to clean up all the fallen limbs, Haines said.
Amid the rising anger and frustration of those still in the dark, utility companies are pleading for patience, saying crews are working around the clock and nothing else can be done to speed up the process.
That's little consolation for people who have been in the dark for a week, including Carmen Andronesu, who is one of more than 1,000 residents who live in a condo complex in Toronto's north end.
"No matter how much you try calling here and there, it’s like you cannot find help from anywhere," she said.
Wynne promises help for food spoilage
In a morning news conference, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the concern she's heard most around the province is spoiled food. She said she's looking at providing help and would offer details over the next couple of days when a plan had been confirmed.
"We've reached out to food suppliers to try to come up with a way of compensating people and getting some extra food — or food vouchers, something to folks, so that's what we're working out over the next couple of days," she said.
Ford said Toronto won't be looking into any sort of compensation until the power has been restored.
"I can’t give any numbers or any assurances that we can reimburse anyone," Ford said.
11,000 without power in N.B.
About 11,000 customers in New Brunswick are also struggling through a long power outage, mostly in St. Stephen and the Saint John area.
Some people won't have their power restored until the new year, according to a tweet from NB Power on Saturday. Gaetan Thomas, the utility's CEO, said extra crews are being brought in from Quebec tonight, which means more than 200 crews will be working in the province to restore electricity.
Thomas said another large storm, forecast for tomorrow, will also hinder their efforts as it brings freezing rain and snow.
In the rural southern New Brunswick community of Titusville, people without power have been heading to the generator-powered general store to buy kerosene, propane, candles and water.
Owner Mark Carline said the storm and outage has caused him to reflect.
"I think we were all reminded and humbled by the fact that at any given time we could be set back to this state, where we’re scrambling [to get] the basic necessities."
In Quebec, the outages are almost over: Hydro-Québec tweeted late Friday night that they were "almost there" with only about 400 customers left who needed power restored.
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