Ice storm in New Brunswick leaves people in dark days later
NB Power hopes to have most customers back online by Tuesday night
About 1,200 New Brunswick homes and businesses still have no electricity after last week's ice storm and Monday's snowstorm, from a high of about 82,000, but NB Power crews hope to have most customers back online by late Tuesday night heading into 2014.
"That's our goal at this moment," utility spokesman Brent Staeben told CBC News.
Up to 1,200 customers may have a dark New Year's Eve, however, said Staeben. It could be Friday before they are reconnected, he said.
Seasonal homes are also expected to have power restored once other customers are reconnected.
Some people have already been waiting 10 days.
"No system is designed or sustained for this size of catastrophic series of storms — the largest challenge our utility likely has ever faced," NB Power posted on Twitter.
Premier David Alward, whose Meductic-area home lost power for about three hours on Tuesday morning, is asking people to be patient.
The government will look at what can be improved to avoid problems in the future, he said during a news conference in Fredericton on Tuesday afternoon, flanked by NB Power and Emergency Measures Organization officials.
"We're evaluating what the long-term needs are. It's still early to know what will be there, if there will be compensation," he said.
About 800 of the current outages are directly related to last week's ice storm, while the remainder have other causes, officials said.
EMO director Greg MacCallum described the widespread outages as a difficult event, but said it was "very safely" handled.
One take-away lesson is the vulnerability of cellphone towers during power failures, MacCallum said.
The bulk of the outstanding outages are in Fredericton (976), Rothesay (502), St. Stephen (326) and Sussex (112).
On Tuesday morning, more than 4,700 New Brunswickers were still waiting for their heat and lights to be restored. The number dropped to about 2,000 around 3:30 p.m. AT, then quickly jumped to about 4,500, before dropping to 1,949 around 4:45 p.m.
About 250 line and tree-trimming crews are working round the clock.
Some blame lack of tree trimming
"We're running a generator that costs $80 a day. Our money's getting low. What are we supposed to do?" asked Bartlett.
One of her neighbours is using rent money to buy fuel, she said.
Tom Gribbons, who has also been without power at his Rothesay home for about a week after tree branches crushed the nearby power lines, contends it could have been prevented.
"I put a call into NB Power last summer asking them to trim some trees. And the response that I received was, 'We don't do that anymore.'"
NB Power officials deny any cutbacks and say they don't have an explanation for anecdotal complaints from people who say they've asked in vain for their trees to be trimmed.
The utility has maintained a substantial tree-trimming program over the past few years and has had a budget increase approved for 2014 because trees are growing faster due to climate change, officials said.
The tree-trimming budget is $5.8 million next year, up from $3.1 million in 2007-08, they said.
Rothesay Mayor Bill Bishop says it's not enough. "Tree maintenance must be stepped up," he said.
Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant has also questioned the lack of regular tree-trimming around power lines and said he plans to question the Alward government's response to the widespread and lengthy outages once the legislature resumes in February.
The premier says NB Power may have to be more forceful in the future about trimming trees around power lines.
In some communities, there's a "fair amount of angst" among residents about trimming trees, Alward said during the news conference.
Although NB Power has right of way around lines, the utility backs off in some cases if people kick up a fuss, officials said.
The storm shows the work has to be done, said Alward.
"The infrastructure itself has held very strong. The impact we've seen on between [85,000] and 100,000 customers is because of trees on the lines. That's what the impact has been."
Health Minister Ted Flemming also contends the government is not to blame.
"The fact of the matter is it was an unprecedented storm," even worse than the storm of 1998, said Flemming, who went without power for six days at his Rothesay home.
"This storm resulted in New Brunswick Power losing 25 per cent of its residential customers."
People need to put the situation in perspective, said Flemming.
"I spend a lot of time dealing with hospitals, which have sick people and I think we would all do well to say if the biggest problem you have on Christmas Day is that you don’t have electricity — well, I think there’s a lot of hospitals you could go to and I think people would say, ‘I think you’re doing just fine,'" he said.
The great story here is to see the people of New Brunswick come together in such difficult times.- Health Minister Ted Flemming
"There was no incident whatsoever of lawlessness, or looting, or police being called, or anything else like that," stressed Flemming. "In terms of any severe human tragedy, it has been remarkably silent in that area.
"So there’s going to be the naysayers, and there’s going to be some person who’s going to go on and want to blame somebody — somebody should have done this and somebody should have done that and how did the government let this happen. But the great story here is to see the people of New Brunswick come together in such difficult times."
Warming centres remain open in some of the hardest hit areas, but some have scaled back to daytime hours, including the locations in Grand Bay and Quispmasis.
The Quispamsis centre closes for good at 4 p.m.
On the Kingston Penninsula, the Anglican Parish hall at Kingston Corner remains open. The Red Cross is staffing warming stations in St. George at Magaguadavic Place on Spinney Drive, and in Oak Bay at the local fire department.
In the past week, about 82,000 homes and businesses have been without electricity at some point, NB Power officials have said.
Some customers have been without power for more than a week. In some cases, customers have lost power six times.