Officials in Toronto say they are nearing the return of heat and light to customers who have been without power for eight days, but New Brunswick's power utility is worried a winter storm bearing down on the Maritimes will cause new problems.
The latest tallies show power is still out for about 3,000 customers in Toronto, about 3,200 in New Brunswick and just under 400 in Quebec on Sunday night. (In Quebec, the outages have fluctuated as crews turn off power in some areas to safely return it to others.)
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Officials in Toronto said they hope to have most customers back on the grid by Monday, while New Brunswick is aiming for Tuesday.
"We’re still working to that plan to have most customers powered up by Tuesday; However, there are a couple of concerns [including] the upcoming storm," NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas said.
There is a snowfall warning in effect for most of southern New Brunswick including St. Stephen and Rothesay, two of the communities that were hardest hit after last weekend's storm.
A winter storm will develop over the U.S. Eastern Seaboard Sunday afternoon and track northeastward passing over the Maritimes, Environment Canada warns.
Premier David Alward is urging communities to “hunker down” as the storm is expected to bring up to 25 centimetres of snow across southern New Brunswick. Some freezing rain is expected in the province, but not enough to merit a warning, the weather agency said.
NB Power spokesman Brent Staeban said the utility is preparing for the storm by moving additional crews, material and management to the affected areas in advance of the storm, and is co-ordinating with local communities and the Department of Transportation to make sure roads are cleared as soon as possible.
"It’s simply going to slow us down and be an impediment, but we’re going to do everything we can to push through it and keep the effort going," he said.
Staeben said if the storm's effects are "minimal," the vast majority of customers should have their power restored by 10 p.m. AT on New Year's Eve.
Even without the storm, Staeben described the restoration efforts as an "exceedingly complex and slow slog" that has included crews looking for outages on snowmobile, and some fixes requiring the removal of 50 to 60 trees on a section of line.
Finish line visible
Many of the 3,000 homes still experiencing power outages on Sunday night are in neighbourhoods with rear-lot construction, where poles and power lines are located in backyards, according to Toronto Hydro. Crews can't use bucket trucks to reach the damage and must enter the yards on foot, carrying equipment and using ladders to climb poles and make repairs.
"This is time-consuming and hazardous, especially at night, and is delaying restoration for these customers," reads a Toronto Hydro release.
Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said Sunday morning that the finish line is within sight, while provincial utility Hydro One said the ice storm outages are essentially over outside the city, allowing their crews to lend a hand.
Haines and Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello both said even when power has fully returned it won't mean business as usual at the utility. Cleanup including tree-trimming will take months, Marcello said.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said the outages have been costing Toronto Hydro roughly $1 million a day.
Ford said he's called a special council meeting for Jan. 10 to request money from the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program.
Haines said the cost during outages is typically 50 per cent worker costs, 50 per cent equipment, though he noted there would be special costs associated with this storm such as hotel rooms for out-of-town crews.
He said his preference is to find the $10 million in Toronto Hydro's budget, but if they can't their only source of revenue is customers.
Premier calls for grocery store donations
Ford told CBC News during an interview Saturday that he has not declared a state of emergency was not recommended by his team, including Haines, the city manager, the deputy city manager and the heads of city departments.
"Everybody's agreed this is not a state of emergency," Ford said, adding that the entire city needed to be paralyzed for that to happen.
But on Sunday, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told CBC News Network on Sunday that his advice to the mayor was to declare a state of emergency. Kelly said he felt it was important psychologically to let citizens know the city was taking it seriously.
"I would respectfully question [Ford's] perspective" that nobody with the city was calling for a state of emergency, Kelly said.
Kelly, who chairs the emergency committee, said he's been the city representative in touch with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and that he's the one to hold accountable about the response to the ice storm.
Wynne, who says the concern she's heard most around the province is spoiled food, announced that Loblaws will be donating $25,000 in grocery store gift cards. Wynne said the government will match that amount and she challenged other grocery stores to help out too.
Wynne said the program is meant especially for people who can't afford to replace the food that was lost.
Private citizens who would like to make donations should use the Daily Bread Food Bank, she said.