NB Power now says it could be Dec. 31 before electricity is restored to everyone in New Brunswick following a pre-Christmas ice storm.

The number of customers without electricity stood at about 17,000 at mid-day Friday, down from a peak of about 54,000 on Monday, but up about 1,000 from earlier in the day Friday.

But with many power lines entangled in a maze of frozen trees, and transportation made difficult by subsequent snowfall, NB Power has revised its original estimate of having everyone back on the grid by Dec. 28.

"These trees and heavy snow are making it difficult for crews to access many areas in order to do repairs, leading to further delays," stated the utility on Twitter.

Crews near St. Stephen

Crews near St. Stephen. (Submitted by NB Power)

The Crown corporation estimates it has restored nearly 100,000 customers since Monday, but says many customers have lost power more than once - some as many as five times.

"You take two steps forward, you get three steps back and then you just keep hopiong you gain some ground along the way," said NB Power spokesperson Deborah Nobes.

Snowfall since the pre-Christmas ice storm has made things more difficult, said Nobes.

"You can't catch a break," she said.

"Snow complicates things. It makes it harder to drive. You have to wait for the plows to go berfore our trucks can roll," she said, adding that a lot of the work is taking place on secondary roads.

"They are in the backwoods of New Brunswick trying to fix these lines and a lot of these roads are just impassable," said Nobes. "Some of our crews are using snowmobiles to get where they are going."

More than half the current outages in the province are accounted for in the Rothesay area, where almost 9,800 customers remain in the dark.

The St. Stephen area accounts for more than 3,800 customer outages and there are more than 1,200 in Fredericton.

Sussex, with more than 1,200 affected customers, and Moncton, with about 50, account for the rest of the outages.

NB Power is also urging people to keep their heat and lights low and to turn off unnecessary appliances to avoid load issues when power is being restored.

"This is an issue that is causing extra problems for our crews re-energizing lines and restoring power, fuses are blowing due to excess load," stated NB Power on Twitter.

There are 185 crews on the ground Friday, including some from neighbouring provinces and privately contracted crews. That's the largest number of crews that have been working at one time on the restoration effort since it began.

Many in Rothesay and St. Stephen first lost their power on Dec. 23 at the leading edge of an ice storm.  Helena Bishop and Alex Bishop were among those who lost power early and spent an old-fashioned Christmas without electricity.

"It just really encourages us to spend more time together," said Alex Bishop. "We've been doing a lot of board games and we haven't been separated so much. But I'm really looking forward to the power coming back on."

NB Power updates on Twitter