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As Toronto Hydro pledges power's return, some residents still feel left in the dark

Diana Swift, whose Toronto home has been without power since last Sunday, rubs her constantly cold hands while sitting beside her fireplace on Dec. 29, 2013.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

When Diana Swift wakes up in the morning, she can see her breath in her icy-cold bedroom on the second floor. She wills herself out from beneath three white goose-down feather comforters, warmed only by her golden retriever, Phoenix.

Ms. Swift has lived without electricity, heat and running water for a week now. As of late Sunday, she was one of 3,000 Toronto power customers who remained in the dark, eight days after a devastating ice storm crippled Toronto and other parts of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

At the height of the blackout, about 600,000 households and other power customers were cut off from the grid in Ontario. On Sunday, Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said he expects power will be fully restored in the city by some time on Monday. A few hundred customers outside Toronto were also without electricity.

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"I think I'm now almost standing on the finish line," Mr. Haines told reporters at a media conference Sunday morning. "We now have crews out almost attending each and every one of the final outages and so what I can tell the customers is there are trucks rolling toward you."

Of the Toronto Hydro customers still grappling with blackouts, Mr. Haines said 1,500 need to hire electricians to repair damage before their power can be restored. Once the work is inspected by the province's Electrical Safety Authority, he said hydro crews will reconnect the buildings to the grid.

That final step, though, has not come quickly for Ms. Swift.

She hired an electrician last Monday, after an ice-coated tree across the street broke apart, tearing down the electrical mast that feeds electricity to her two-storey, red-brick house in east Toronto. She received certification for the repair from the Electrical Safety Authority, but as of late Sunday afternoon, no Toronto Hydro truck had come to reconnect her home to the grid.

She is freezing and frustrated, her life on hold.

"The cold is just bone-chilling. It's numbing," Ms. Swift said, wrapped in a brown fur vest, long black winter coat and plaid scarf.

Alone in her house, the freelance writer has weathered the week-long outage with a flashlight and a fireplace in the family room to heat water, cook meals, and make lattes in the morning. On Sunday afternoon, as the sun began to set, it was warmer outside – about 2 C – than it was inside her house.

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Ms. Swift said she feels there has been insufficient communication from Toronto Hydro. She said she has stayed in her dark, frigid house because an Electrical Safety Authority worker told her to stay put and wait for Toronto Hydro. Unable to get past the city-owned utility's automated menu to reach a live person, Ms. Swift asked her city councillor, Paula Fletcher, to help get information.

"Basically I have been hamstrung here," Ms. Swift said. "It's the uncertainty and not being able to get any information. I wouldn't be here freezing in the dark if I thought I could leave."

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Haines acknowledged his utility's call centre and its ability to handle a high volume of phone calls – 128,000 calls on one day last week – needs improvement. He said he would like to bring in outside experts to examine how Toronto Hyrdo handled the widespread blackout and to offer recommendations on what could be done better the next time an ice storm strikes.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has called for a special city council meeting on Jan. 10 to formally request funding from the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program to help the city and residents cope with the costs of the massive ice storm and prolonged blackout. Costs to residents include spoiled food, damaged roofs, leaky pipes, hotel stays and work by electricians and plumbers.

The mayor said he doesn't yet have an estimate of the storm's total cost to the city.

"I'd love to compensate everybody, but right now I cannot guarantee that," Mr. Ford said.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province is working with supermarket chains to provide gift cards to people who lost food as a result of the ice storm. More details are expected Monday.

Mr. Haines said the storm will likely cost Toronto Hydro between $8-million and $10-million. While he said he hopes to find much of that cost within the utility's budget, he did not rule out higher rates for customers.

Outside Ontario, about 4,500 customers remained in the dark in Quebec and 4,000 in New Brunswick. A winter storm expected late Sunday threatened to derail efforts to reconnect customers in New Brunswick.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More

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