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195,000 customers in Toronto without power; reconnection costs estimated at $1M a day

A Cabbagetown resident negotiates fallen trees and icy roads on Wellesley Street in Toronto on Dec. 23, 2013, following the weekend ice storm.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

How are you coping with the ice storm? Tell us your story here.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford warned on Monday that it could still take up until after Christmas to restore power to every resident and said that the city was bringing in about 100 extra trucks from Canada and the United States to deal with the aftermath of the weekend's ice storm.

"Unfortunately it's going to get even busier tonight," said Mr. Ford at a joint news conference with the chief executives of the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto Hydro and other city officials.

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By late afternoon, the TTC had restored the bulk of its subway service and Toronto Hydro said it has restored power at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, which had been operating on power generators.

Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Vanessa Nero said that 195,000 customers in the city were without power late Monday afternoon, and 286,000 in the province. It's totalling about $1-million a day in restoration costs, she said.

Although Toronto Hydro had reduced the number of power outages on Monday, its chief executive Anthony Haines said he was still planning for the worst.

"I'm not expecting at this point to have everything cleared up by Christmas Day," Mr. Haines said at the news conference.

Power crews from Mississauga, Windsor, Michigan, Ottawa and Manitoba are due to start arriving on Tuesday.

Mr. Ford defended his decision not to declare a state of emergency, saying it was not needed as conditions were improving and said the city was working as "quickly as we can."

"We can't work any faster," he said. "I feel sorry for the people who don't have hydro. But what can I do? I can't make a promise that it's going to be on tomorrow when realistically it won't be. We still have about 190,000 residents without power."

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Environment Canada has ended all of its weather-related warnings for Ontario. However, there are several freezing-rain warnings in effect on Monday across Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The forecast for Toronto calls for a 40-per-cent chance of flurries on Monday, followed by a 60-per-cent chance of flurries on Monday evening and Tuesday.

With no heat, no food and no hot water, Li Hua, 33, knew she didn't want to spend the night at her home, located near Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street, which had been powerless since Saturday night.

So on Sunday night Ms. Hua went to the Dennis R. Timbrell Resource Centre, a full-time neighbourhood community centre and part-time warming centre while Toronto remains largely in the dark.

She was served food and warm drinks by Red Cross volunteers, who have been working at the centre in the Flemingdon Park area around the clock. She also received a place to sleep – cots are spread out across the hardwood gymnasium floor, usually reserved for centre programming – and blankets to keep her warm.

"Everything is difficult," Ms. Hua said about having no access to electricity at her home. "Here it's good because you got hot water and things to eat."

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Red Cross volunteers said people can also take a shower and the centre will remain open as long as people need a place to go.

Parts of Atlantic Canada were experiencing freezing rain and some power outages on Monday morning. By midafternoon, New Brunswick Power said more than 21,000 customers were without power, with about 18,000 customers in Rothesay and St. Stephen experiencing electricity outages.

Travel was disrupted across the Maritimes because of slick roads, while several flights were delayed or cancelled at airports – mainly because of backlogs created by the severe weather that has also hit Quebec and Ontario.

Across Ontario, outside of the GTA, Hydro One reported 120,000 customers still without power on Monday morning and asked for patience as customers worked to restore to 9,200 customers in Brampton and more than 111,000 customers around Orillia, Belleville and Simcoe.

The outages are largely across the southern part of the province stretching from the shore of Lake St. Clair in the west to areas along the St. Lawrence River near Kingston in the east.

In York Region, PowerStream reported 29,000 customers still without power in Markham, Aurora, Richmond Hill, Thornhill and Vaughan and in other areas. Power for most customers was expected to be restored later Monday.

In Mississauga, Enersource reported 539 customers without electricity as of Monday morning. Twelve hours earlier, Enersource had reported 13,000 customers without power.

Horizon Utilities, which serves the Hamilton and St. Catharines area, reported Monday morning that 3,000 customers remain without power, a figure that is down from as high as 30,000 on Sunday.

At least one municipality, the Ontario township of Woolwich, had declared a state of emergency as of Sunday evening.

According to Karen Snider, a spokeswoman with the Red Cross, about 600 people visited one of the 17 warming centres that were set up on the fly in areas in Southern Ontario such as Hamilton, York Region, Halton and Toronto. Of that number, 450 people went into one of the 10 warming centres in Toronto.

The Toronto Eaton Centre had the busiest Sunday of the year, even though there were fewer shoppers than this time last year. About 111,000 shoppers flocked to the largest mall in downtown Toronto while public transportation was disrupted. On Dec. 22 last year, about 136,000 shoppers went the centre, according to a spokesperson for the mall.

At the North York Sheridan Mall, close to an area where many homes lost power, it was also busy, the mall's property manager said.

Brad Ross, a spokesman for the TTC said the ice storm was worse than a regular winter storm.

"The length of disruption is far greater than what we would typically see in a snowstorm. … You don't have prolonged outages like we have with a subway where it has to be supplemented with a bus service, and then when you supplement with a bus service, you are taking those buses from other routes that would normally be serviced.

"When you have a subway out, we don't have buses on standby to act as shuttle buses, we have to get those buses from somewhere else."

GO Transit is operating on a "adjusted storm schedule" as crews worked to remove trees on tracks, restore power to stations, and fix switches and signals so that trains could run. The schedule is changing throughout the day and customers are asked to check the GO Transit website.

At Toronto's Pearson airport, passengers were advised to check their flight status with their airline and allow for extra travel to the airport. About 60 cancellations out of 1,500 flights were reported as of noon Monday.

Utilities around Ontario that were not affected by the storm are sending crews to help restore power in Southern Ontario, in some cases telling the emergency workers that they may be away from home over Christmas.

Hydro Ottawa has sent 13 workers to Picton, Ont., and expects to send eight people to Toronto.

"The fellows that have gone to Picton, we're told them to plan on being there till Christmas Eve and then we'll reassess as time goes by," Ottawa Hydro spokesman Owen Mahaffy said. "For the fellows going to Toronto, we've told them the same sort of thing, but keep in your back pocket that you may be there till Boxing Day. "

Crews volunteer for the emergency shifts and Mr. Mahaffy said Ottawa Hydro hasn't had trouble finding willing workers. "They know how important the work is, especially in winter. They work hard and they earn every penny, but it definitely helps with the Christmas bills."

Larger utilities are members of mutual assistance agreements that lay out how the host company will pay the bills for those offering aid. That saves busy executives from having to worry about such details when they need help on the ground.

Utilities throughout Ontario and even into the United States are part of such agreements, said Jim Burpee, president of the Canadian Electricity Association. In fact, Canadian utilities sent crews to help restore power last year after super-storm Sandy hit the New Jersey and New York.

Mr. Burpee, who lives in Toronto and was without power himself, said the biggest issue for utilities is to keep trees away from power lines.

In areas more recently developed, power lines are often buried. But in cities, they remain overhead and there are a lot of older trees that are vulnerable to ice damage. "The storm didn't last long enough [to bring down power lines independently]; this is all trees contacting lines," he said.

Jacques Gagnon, a spokesman for Via Rail, said Monday that the colder, dryer weather should allow for travel times to remain on schedule, though some minor delays have been reported. Dec. 23 is typically the busiest travel day of the year, Mr. Gagnon said.

Toronto police said there were fewer people calling on Monday about storm-related problems compared with Sunday. Constable Sarah Diamond said no deaths due to the ice storm had been reported. The police have opened warming centres at the following 13 locations: 11 Division, 2054 Davenport Rd., 12 Division, 200 Trethewey Dr., 14 Division, 350 Dovercourt Rd., 22 Division, 3699 Bloor St. W., 23 Division, 5230 Finch Ave. W., 31 Division, 40 Norfinch Dr., 33 Division, 50 Upjohn Rd., 42 Division, 242 Milner Ave., 43 Division, 4331 Lawrence Ave. E., 51 Division, 51 Parliament St., 52 Division, 255 Dundas St. W., Toronto Police College, 70 Birmingham St. and Toronto Police Service headquarters, 40 College St.

With reports from Bill Curry, Shawn McCarthy, Affan Chowdry, Kaitlyn McGrath and The Canadian Press.

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