Some of the thousands of New Brunswickers who lost power during Wednesday night's snowstorm may be in the dark for days to come, says the public safety minister.
"NB Power has advised that tricky driving conditions are hampering their efforts to assess and repair the damage and it may be a few days before power is fully restored," Stephen Horsman said in a statement late Thursday afternoon.
It will take crews most of Thursday to assess the damage, the statement said.
More than 48,000 of NB Power's customers were knocked offline by the first major winter storm of the season in the Maritimes. The storm dumped 35 centimetres of snow on parts of the province — and Environment Canada says more is on the way.
Power-wise, the Fredericton area was the hardest-hit, with more than 21,000 homes and businesses without electrical service at one point.
As of 10:30 p.m. AT, the number of customers without power across the province still hovered at around 4,600, according to the utility's website.
"Crews are working hard to restore power as soon as possible," Horsman said.
Meanwhile, he is urging motorists to avoid travelling if possible, citing downed power lines and hazardous driving conditions.
Eerie Frederiction sky
Marie-Andree Bolduc, an NB Power spokeswoman, said heavy, wet snowfall combined with strong winds led to trees falling on to power lines and damage to power poles, causing the bright flashes of light people in Fredericton reported seeing overnight Wednesday.
The night sky in the capital area took on an eerie blue-green glow from power transformers on utility poles blowing and cutting off power to thousands of NB Power customers.
The electrical grid in the Fredericton area was also battered in post-tropical storm Arthur in July when high winds and heavy rains uprooted large trees and plunged more than 140,000 NB Power customers into darkness at its peak.
Virtually all homes and businesses in the Fredericton area lost power as a result of Arthur with thousands of trees toppled or damaged in the capital area.
More than 80 NB Power and contract crews along with some from municipal energy companies from Saint John and Edmundston are working to repair the latest outages, said Bolduc.
More than a dozen crews from Nova Scotia Power are also assisting, she said.
Crews are focused on restoring high-risk and emergency calls, and outages that can get the most customers back online at one time.
They were positioned prior to the storm to allow restoration work to begin as soon as possible, officials said.
Fredericton opens warming/charging centres
The city of Fredericton has opened two reception centres for area residents without power, offering a warming area and an opportunity to charge electronic devices.
The centres, located at the Grant-Harvey Centre, on the city's south side, and Willie O'Ree Place, on the north side, will be open 24 hours a day until power is restored in the city.
Bulk water is also available at Fredericton fire stations, the city said.
The Fredericton Fire Department reported it responded to 33 downed power lines, 15 electrical fires and three motor vehicle accidents overnight Wednesday.
The nor'easter that moved into New Brunswick on Wednesday evening and raged through the night was forecast to dump more than 25 cm of snow and ice pellets on the southern half of New Brunswick, with the Moncton area in southeast New Brunswick possibly seeing as much as 60 cm.
Peter Coade, a CBC meteorologist, said Gagetown received about 35 cm of snow, followed by 20 cm in Moncton and Saint John.
Environment Canada's forecast calls for yet more of the white stuff Thursday night — between five and 15 cm in most areas of the province.
Driving conditions hazardous
The snow also created driving problems across the Maritimes.
Mike Walker, the manager of streets and roads in Fredericton, said crews have been working to clear streets in the capital city but they are being slowed down by low-hanging power lines.
He said those low, or downed, power lines are keeping snow-removal equipment from clearing some streets.
The highway conditions from Quebec to Nova Scotia are poor, according to the two companies that manage the highway in New Brunswick.
Felicia Murphy, a spokesperson for Brun-Way, said the highway between Quebec and Longs Creek is icy and snow covered.
She said driving conditions throughout the day are expected to be poor. Even when the snow stops, Murphy said, high winds will “wreak havoc on visibility” by blowing around all of the snow.
Brun-Way also issued a road advisory for the highway between Woodstock and Meductic on Thursday afternoon, saying travel is not advised.
Ross Mathers, the spokesperson for MRDC, said the highway between Fredericton and Moncton is also snow-packed and icy.
He said car traffic is low at the moment. He recommended that drivers avoid the highway until at least noon.
Snow is still falling in western P.E.I., and the Department of Transportation is warning of poor visibility there.
Route 1 from Crapaud through Charlottetown all the way to Wood Islands is icy, as is Route 2 from Summerfield through Charlottetown and out to Morell.
The weather cancelled the 6:30 a.m. Northumberland Ferries run out of Wood Islands and the return from Caribou at 9:30 a.m.
The morning Air Canada flights to Halifax Stanfield International Airport from Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton were cancelled.
The ferry connecting Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island did not sail at 6:30 a.m. or 9 a.m.
The Bay Ferries crossing from Saint John left at noon, rather than the usual 9 a.m.
Schools closed across Maritimes
The winter storm caused schools in several districts across New Brunswick to announce closures.
All schools were closed in the following districts:
- Anglophone West
- Anglophone North
- Anglophone South
- Anglophone East
- Francophone South
- Francophone North East
The University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University were both closed until noon.
Some schools in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island schools were also closed because of the storm.
The storm closed schools in P.E.I.'s English and French school boards. Many Holland Colleges campuses closed and the University of Prince Edward Island delayed opening.
In Nova Scotia, all Chignecto-Central School Board schools in Cumberland County als closed due to weather.
Numerous other cancellations were being reported to CBC Storm Centre.