Ice storm aftermath: Staying safe during power outages

The winter storm that struck Central and Atlantic Canada this weekend brought a thick layer of ice that left hundreds of thousands without power. Here are ways to stay safe during an ice storm.

Officials offer tips on proper heating, illumination and outdoor safety

Leave the removal of fallen limbs to professionals and don't approach sagging or downed wires. (Matthew Sherwood/Canadian Press)

The ice storm that struck Central and Atlantic Canada has caused prolonged power outages from southern Ontario to southern New Brunswick. Here are tips on staying safe during an ice storm and during long power outages.

Power outage tips

1. The federal government warns that people should always be prepared for 72 hours without electricity while emergency workers focus on those in urgent need. That includes preparing an emergency kit and an emergency plan.

2. Check on vulnerable people such as seniors and people with mobility issues.

3. Do not use generators or barbecues indoors as this will create a carbon monoxide hazard. Also, ensure that batteries are working in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. "I can't stress enough," Toronto Deputy Fire Chief Mike McCoy said. "Any appliance in the home that burns — whether it's a barbecue, whether it's a gas appliance — if the home stays closed and there's no way to bring in fresh air, oxygen, you're going to run into a CO issue." 

4. Do not burn trash or paper or in a fireplace, as flaming paper can travel up the chimney and land on the roof.

5. Prefer a flashlight to a candle. If you must use a candle, make sure the glass shade is higher than the flame to protect against burning loose clothing. Blow out the flame when you leave the room and keep candles away from children. 

6. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency advises that a full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours after it loses power, a half-full freezer for about 24 hours. An unopened refrigerator will keep cold for about four hours. After that, try to relocate the food somewhere cold — like just outside your front door, if the temperatures are frigid. When in doubt, throw it out.

7. Keep a few taps turned on to a trickle to prevent pipes from freezing.

8. You may find that your cellphone is your only remaining means of communication with the outside world, and if so you should conserve battery life. You can make the most of a limited resource by turning down the screen brightness and turning off power-hungry functions such as Bluetooth, WiFi and location services.

9. Avoid internal wires or fuses that may have come into contact with water. Leave those to an electrician if you have concerns.

10. Keep appliances unplugged or turned off to avoid problems when the power resumes.

Ice storm tips

1. If you have to go outside after an ice storm, watch for branches or wires that could break or fall due to the weight of the ice. 

2. Don't approach power lines or move downed trees. Any hanging power line could be charged. Stay back at least 10 metres from wires or anything in contact with them.

3. Avoid driving if possible. Freezing rain can make roads extremely slippery. Wait several hours after freezing rain ends so road maintenance crews have enough time to spread sand or salt on icy roads.

4. Freezing rain and strong winds increase the chances for hypothermia. Dress for the weather with boots or shoes with rubber soles. If you live on a farm, move livestock to shelter where feed is available. Forage is often temporarily inaccessible during and immediately after ice storms.

5. Stay tuned to local television or radio stations for weather advisories, and check Environment Canada for weather warnings.

Sources: Government of Canada, Toronto Hydro, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Toronto Fire Services

With files from The Canadian Press