Thousands of New Brunswickers were still without electricity late Monday in the wake of tropical storm Irene.

Heather MacLean, spokeswoman for NB Power, said trees heavy with leaves created a sail effect, blowing branches and whole trees onto power lines. MacLean said dozens of crews worked overnight to deal with 371 incidents across the province.

"At peak we had 53,700 without power," she said. "The wind certainly has had a huge impact."

Monday evening, nearly 15,000 customers were still in the dark. The bulk of those customers were in Fredericton with sizeable outages also reported in Rothesay and Sussex.

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The Bay of Fundy tides surge up Saints Rest Beach in Saint John Monday. (Sarah Trainor/CBC)

MacLean said those affected should prepare to get by without power for a day or even two.

"We're working as quickly and as safely as possible [and] trying to get additional crews in to assist us where possible, but we are asking our customers to prepare for a worst-case scenario," she said.

NB Power usually asks other utilities for help after a big storm, but those resources are largely tied up helping U.S. areas hit by Irene.

The storm started as a hurricane but was downgraded to a tropical storm before reaching the Maritimes.

The City of Fredericton said Queen Street had no power Monday morning and asked its employees to delay arrival at work. Many traffic lights were out and there were reports of debris on streets. Motorists were urged to drive carefully.

In the northern part of the province, crews had to wait for winds to die down enough to start repair work.  

Firefighters were busy as multiple transformers caught fire during the storm. Some of those blazes spread to power poles.   There was a Fredericton barn fire overnight, but it was not clear if it was related to the storm.  

Ferries stopped, beaches closed

Two morning ferries were cancelled Monday due to heavy rain and turbulent water. Princess of Acadia Ferry operators stopped morning and noon sailings to Digby and Saint John.

Two cruise ships destined for Saint John also changed course. Carnival Glory was due Monday morning, but will arrive Tuesday instead. The Caribbean Princess cancelled a Tuesday visit to the city.

Confederation Bridge officials lifted traffic restrictions Monday afternoon.

Police in Saint John are restricting access to Saints Rest and McLarens beaches. Sand Cove Road is closed at the beach, and there is no access to the Irving Nature Park. The end of Sea Street is also barricaded to prevent access to the beach.

Kathy Ribo was one the wave watchers who came to watch the swell at Saints Rest crash onshore. Ribo said she had never seen the water look so alive:

"Well normally you come down here it's quite calm, you can walk down through the water, run your dog and walk the beach but not today man ... this is crazy," said Ribo.

The beach was shut down before high tide at noon to discourage people from getting too close.

District Fire Chief Eric Garland said the powerful waves may make for good pictures, but they're also dangerous.

"People often under estimate the undertow regarding the waves, so we caution people to stay away from the water," said Garland.

Moments before high tide, water rushed over the banks at Saints Rest flooding part of the road and the entire parking lot where people had previously stood.

When the water receded it left behind branches and heavy rocks. A grader had to be called in as part of the cleanup.

Andrew Morton, director of the province's Emergency Measures Organization, said people should stay away from the coast.

"It takes one rogue wave to knock people into the water and we've seen deaths in other parts of North America as a result of that, so it's not something to play around with," he said.

"There can be very strong undertows associated with that as well, so even strong swimmers are at risk."