A woman has been killed in Toronto's west end after being struck by flying debris, police have confirmed, amid wild weather lashing the city that is expected to intesify in the coming hours.
The woman was struck by a portion of a sign near Keele Street and St. Clair Avenue West around 7:20 p.m. when the piece broke loose in the wind, police said. The victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene, has not yet been identified, but paramedics told CBC News she appeared to be in her 50s and had suffered a severe head injury.
Earlier Monday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford warned residents to take extra precautions ahead of a hybrid storm system that includes remnants of post-tropical cyclone Sandy and continues to barrel towards Ontario.
The mayor urged residents to take "simple steps" to prepare for potential flooding, poor driving conditions and power outages.
As of 8 p.m., thousands of hydro customers across the city and the provinces were in the dark. Homes on Brunswick north of Bloor were without power, as were homes in the Beaches.
Toronto Hydro had reported earlier in the evening that 3,500 customers were without power, but that the number was expected to grow as calls continue to trickle into their call centre.
Jennifer Link, a spokesperson for the utility, said extra crews would attend to help restore power to homes throughout the night, though workers would be called back if wind and rain conditions become too dangerous.
By around 10 p.m., Hydro One had reported that about 30,000 customers across the province were without power. In terms of the GTA, there were two major outages north of Brampton affecting about 1,200 people.
"Folks, this evening will be different," Ford told reporters at Monday afternoon news conference at city hall.
"We are expecting very strong winds — in some situations up to 90 km/hr — and some heavy, heavy rainfall."
Ford advised residents to remove loose items from their homes such as Halloween decorations, lawn furniture and waste bins, and to store the materials in a safe place to reduce the risk of gusts blowing loose items into the streets.
"You can help by making sure any storm sewer grates and catch basins near your home are clear of leaves…to prevent flooding," he added.
But the "biggest fear" is the loss of power, Ford said, reminding motorists to proceed through faulty traffic lights with caution and to treat such intersections as four-way stops. "We do not encourage people to drive during the storm, only if you have to," he said.
'We need to be prepared for the worst'
Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, meanwhile, also provided an update Monday afternoon on the province's emergency preparedness measures.
"Let me first say that we share the pain that our neighbours to the south are experiencing," she said.
"We don't expect the same level of impact here, but this is a serious storm and we need to be prepared for the worst."
"We don't want to scare people; we just need to let them know that we have to be ready." —Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur
She said it's important that every family be prepared for any possible crisis for a three-day period and also have a survival kit.
"We don't want to scare people; we just need to let them know that we have to be ready," she said.
The biggest concern for Emergency Management Ontario, the provincial agency overlooking preparedness measures, are high winds that are expected to hit southern Ontario.
"There could be electricity blackouts, there could be things flying through the air, so I'm saying to people, if you haven't brought your patio table and chairs in yet, please do it," Meilleur said.
Air Canada cancellations
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick expects most airports in the U.S. northeast to remain closed on Tuesday. About 150 Air Canada and Air Canada Express flghts will be affected.
Service will be affected to and from the following airports on Tuesday: LaGuardia, Newark, JFK, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington National, Washington Dulles, Baltimore, Harrisburg PA, Providence RI and Hartford CT.
Air Canada operates about 1,500 flights a day.
She added that as of 2 p.m., the province's emergency planes and helicopters would be grounded due to windy conditions, although ambulances would continue to on the roads.
"If you don't need to go out, well, stay home," Meilleur said. "Because we don't want people to be exposed to the storm, and please leave the roads free for emergency vehicles."
The storm, which is surging through the U.S. East Coast on Monday and Tuesday, will certainly leave its mark in the Greater Toronto Area.
Toronto on Monday night and early Tuesday will experience heavy rainfall — up to 35 mm — and winds of 60 to 70 km/h with gusts in excess of 100 km/h as the system moves northwest into New York state.
Some areas of Ontario could receive as much as 50 mm of rain.
That’s a far cry from the 140 km/h winds and heavy rainfall expected in some parts of the eastern U.S., but it’s enough to cause power outages and possibly flooding in Toronto.
Flight cancellations abound
Environment Canada has issued a wind warning and Toronto’s Pearson airport has cancelled more than 300 incoming and outgoing flights, amounting to about 20 per cent of Monday's 1,400 scheduled arrivals and departures.
Most of the cancelled flights are those that connect Toronto with Canada's east coast and the eastern United States.
Porter Airlines cancelled all of its flights out of Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto from 3 p.m. Monday until 12 noon Tuesday.
Ron McLean of Boston is one of thousands of travellers whose plans were disrupted by the storm.
He and his wife were planning a brief stopover in Toronto after visiting their daughter in Copenhagen, Denmark. Instead, their Boston flight was cancelled, leaving them to scramble to find a hotel room in Toronto on Monday.
"My work was not surprised to hear that I would not be in to work today, they sort of laughed about it and said, 'Get here when you can,'" he told CBC News. "We can look at it as 'oh, this is awful,' or we can look at it as though we’ve been on vacation for a week, this could be an extended vacation."
The airline has told them the earliest they could be home is Wednesday.
Hamilton, Ottawa get drenched
Hamilton, Ont., is also on storm watch, with officials there warning motorists to expect rain, high winds, flooding and slippery conditions. Up to 25 millimetres is expected to fall throughout the evening. It was much the same situation in the Ottawa area, which is bracing for gusting winds and rain.
Emergency Management Ontario is asking residents to prepare for possible road closures, power outages and flooding.
It also says people should put away any objects that can be blown away by wind, such as garbage lids and Halloween decorations, to prevent damage or injury.
"People in the big cities tend not to be that well prepared because they assume that somebody that else will always fix the problem and usually they’re right," said Red Cross spokesperson Tom Windebank.
"The problem is if too many things go wrong at once, then the emergency service and the city of Toronto service gets overwhelmed."
Wade Schritt, who is still repairing his basement after a summer rainstorm left his east Toronto street looking more like a lake, fears the worst.
"I know they're calling for it tonight to be exactly the same way, but we'll see," he said.
Sandy 'like an elephant walking into the room'
CBC Toronto meteorologist Claire Martin said the province is in for a wet few days.
"Sandy is bigger than Ontario, so it's like an elephant walking into the room. It's not so much that you won't get stomped on, but you'll notice the elephant in the room. This is a massive storm."
Tanya Bruckmueller, with Toronto Hydro, said the utility is expecting some downed trees to cause power disruptions across the city.
"More so the wind, obviously, but with heavy rain, it actually puts weight on the trees, and if they've still got their leaves it could bring the trees down onto the wires or completely tear the branches down onto the wires," she said.
Sandy, whose sustained winds intensified to 150 km/h as of Monday morning at 11 a.m. ET, was blamed for 65 deaths in the Caribbean before it began travelling northward, parallel to the eastern seaboard.
After it makes landfall, it's expected to cut across into Pennsylvania and travel up through New York State on Wednesday.
CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland said heavy winds will pose the greatest problem for GTA residents as the storm surge hits the region in advance of the post-tropical storm making landfall later this week.
"There will be extremely gusty winds overnight tonight," he said Monday. "Still a lot of leaves on the trees, they'll be blown down. We are looking at the potential for urban flooding."
The city of Toronto is asking residents to ensure their street drains are free of leaves.
Laurian Farrell of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority said drivers need be on the lookout for flooded roads, particularly in the lower Don Valley near Richmond Street East and along the Bayview extension.
"It doesn't take much water for those roads to flood," she said Monday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
And although rainfall totals for Monday night are only expected to be about 35 mm, she said the storm will put pressure on rivers already saturated after a very wet weekend. Farrell warned parents to keep children well back of rivers and other waterways.
An earlier version of this story said a woman was struck and killed by a sign in Toronto's east end. In fact, the incident occurred in the city's west end.Oct 29, 2012 8:45 PM ET