Defence Minister Peter MacKay has offered P.E.I. the services of the Canadian Forces as a third of the province remained without power due to severe winter ice storms.

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With traffic lights out for three hours Wednesday afternoon, traffic in Charlottetown was a snarly mess. (CBC)

MacKay said he told Premier Robert Ghiz he was ready to provide immediate assistance. Troops at CFB Gagetown, N.B., were said to be on standby and ready to arrive in Prince Edward Island in a matter of hours.

"We stand at the ready," said MacKay, quoted in the Charlottetown Guardian. "My last words to Premier Ghiz were, 'I'm a phone call away,' and that phone call will put in play assistance immediately."

Roughly 22,000 homes in western Prince Edward Island, representing a third of Islanders, were still without power Wednesday evening as the province continued to feel the effects of an icy winter storm that first hit on Monday.

At 12:07 AT Wednesday, the power went out in the eastern part of the province, leaving few Islanders with electricity. Only a small number of communities in the central area of the province were able to turn the lights on.

Maritime Electric began restoring power to eastern P.E.I. about 3 p.m. AT, roughly three hours after the blackout began.

The outage in eastern P.E.I. was caused when a power line in the Charlottetown area came down on a number of other power lines.

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Ice pulled power lines close to the ground. In many areas poles snapped under the weight. ((CBC))

"For the system to protect itself, it just shut down," said Maritime Electric spokeswoman Kim Griffin.

"When we were able to realize exactly where it originated, we sent a crew there, found out that's what it was, then we had to send [a crew] up to the Rattenbury substation to manually check the switch, and make sure everything was safe for us to proceed and re-energize."

Maritime Electric officials say it could be as late as Friday before electricity is restored to all its customers. Crews were out all day Wednesday assessing damage, but travel has been difficult.

Phones also down

Phone service has also been disrupted for many residents. Aliant says 3,000 customers are without phone service in Alberton, O'Leary, Miscouche and Summerside. In some cases, the phone lines came down with the power poles.

The company has no estimate of when service might be restored. One cell tower is also out of commission, cutting cellphone service in the Covehead area of the North Shore.

Schools in the Western School Board were closed all day, and Eastern School District schools closed when the power went out at noon.

Poles snapped

Freezing rain has caused many of the problems, with ice-caked trees bringing down power lines and poles snapping under the weight of ice on the lines.

The freezing rain has been falling almost continuously since Monday in western P.E.I., and intermittently in the east. The forecast is for the freezing rain to finally end Wednesday afternoon.

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Ice was particularly thick on power lines in western P.E.I. ((CBC))

Environment Canada has a wind warning in effect for the Island. Although wind is ranging from five to 13 km/h, that could increase to 80 km/h. 

Road conditions are slowly improving. In Queens County, the main roads are reported to be clear, with a few icy spots. All secondary roads in the central part of the province are reported to be slippery.

Prince County's main roads are bare to centre bare. Secondary roads are still a problem, with a buildup of ice and snow making them bumpy and slippery.

Roads in Kings County are mostly clear, with some icy spots.

With files from the Canadian Press