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, about 5,000 fewer than Monday's peak. By early afternoon Tuesday, the number had been reduced to about 45,000.

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

Gaetan Thomas

N.B. Power president Gaetan Thomas says the rate increase will help ensure long-term rate stability. (CBC)

​"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.

There is a process N.B. Power uses to determine where its efforts need to focus, he said.

"The process is that we look at areas where there are hospitals, we look at areas where there are large number of customers first," said Thomas. "Or if there are wires on the ground, live wires.

"There are situations where there are even fires, fire departments have been called. So we are looking at a priority level."

The Rothesay area east of Saint John had the greatest number of customers without power at almost 20,000 early Tuesday afternoon. That figure was virtually unchanged from early Tuesday morning.

he St. Stephen area in the southwest of the province was also hard-hit with about 10,500 still without service on Tuesday afternoon.

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 about 6,400 N.B. Power outages still in place on Tuesday afternoon, while in the Sussex area, the number stood at about 6,000

Moncton had almost about 2,300 outages and about 200 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. Another 15 to 20 crews were coming  from Nova Scotia to help.

"Fourteen hours, which is a long day," said Thomas. "You can imagine in the cold and slippery conditions the level of alertness is intense.

And we're dealing with live wires and very dangerous situations, so after 14 hours they are relieved."

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.