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Ice storm causes travel chaos, power outages in GTA

A tree brought down in an ice storm lies across the roof of a car in Ajax on Dec. 22, 2013. 680NEWS/Anne Lavrih

A steady dose of freezing rain across the GTA and parts of eastern Canada turned roads and sidewalks into skating rinks Sunday, cut power to hundreds of thousands of people, and played havoc with holiday plans at one of the busiest travel times of the year.

Toronto Hydro is working to restore power to more than 250,000 homes and businesses in the city and said the blackouts could last 72 hours or longer.

Thousands more in the rest of the GTA also lost power when ice-coated tree branches snapped and pulled down power lines.

At a news conference on Sunday, Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines called the storm a “weather catastrophe” — worse than the ice storm in Ontario in January 1998.

He said Sunnybrook and Toronto East General hospitals have no electricity and are running on emergency generators, and a water pumping station has also lost power.

The situation drew comparisons to the deadly ice storm that encased Quebec in 1998, as hydro crews across the region struggled to restore service.

“Some of the crews I’ve spoken to said this is as bad,” said Blair Peberdy, vice-president of Toronto Hydro. “These storms tend to wreak havoc and we have to go street by street with chainsaws.”

Hydro One, which serves much of rural Ontario, was reporting more than 120-thousand customers were affected.

Ontario’s premier said Sunday that she had talked to many mayors of communities affected by the storm to offer provincial support. She said the province was going to provide tree harvesters to some communities to help crews clear away downed trees.

”We’re going to bring in the resources that are needed to deal with the situation,” Kathleen Wynne told a news conference.

At least one municipality, the township of Woolwich near Waterloo, declared a state of emergency

Speaking to reporters, Mayor Ford called it “the worst storm in Toronto’s history” but said he would consider declaring a state of emergency unless conditions got worse over the next 24 hours.

The city has opened community centres where people can get food, water, and warmth.

See below for a full list of reception centres.

Service on all of Toronto’s streetcar routes was suspended for most of the day after ice formed on the power lines. Service resumed with delays Sunday evening. Service on the Sheppard and Scarborough RT has been suspended until Monday. Trains were also bypassing several subway stations due to lack of power and, in other cases, downed trees blocked their paths.

GO Transit has restored some power to the Lakeshore East line, but not the Whitby and Oshawa stations, which remain inaccessible. It said the rest of the train and bus system are experiencing “major delays” said it will be operating on a adjusted schedule on Monday.

Click here for TTC updates and here for GO Transit.

The Toronto District School Board said late Sunday that its facilities would be closed Monday. Classes are over for the Christmas break, but there are 300 child care centres that would be affected.

Salting and sanding crews worked through the night in an uphill battle against a dangerous mix of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain affecting an area from Niagara Falls, Ont., to the Atlantic Coast.

The weather conditions are suspected to have been a factor in three fatal highway accidents in Quebec Saturday, and another in Ontario.

Provincial police are strongly advising people not to drive unless absolutely necessary.

The weather conditions have also resulted in scores of flight cancellations and delays at airports in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Saint John, Halifax and St. John’s.

Passengers are being advised to check their flights before heading to the airport. Find updates for Pearson International Airport here.

Reception Centres

  • Dennis R. Timbrell Community Centre, 29 St. Denis Dr.
  • Malvern Community Centre, 30 Sewells Dr.
  • Agincourt Recreation Centre, 31 Glen Watford Dr.
  • Don Montgomery Community Centre, 2467 Eglinton Ave. E.
  • Northwrood Community Centre, 15 Clubhouse Ct.
  • Mitchell Field Community Centre, 89 Church Ave.
  • Joseph J. Piccininni Community Centre, 1369 St. Clair Ave. W.


TIPS DURING A POWER OUTAGE (Source: City of Toronto)

During an outage:

  • Unplug or turn off all appliances to avoid possible damage when power resumes.
  • Turn off water to the clothes washer and dishwasher if they are in use when the power goes out.
  • Leave a light or radio on so you will know when power is restored.
  • When power has been restored, check all fuses to ensure that none have been blown, before calling Toronto Hydro.
  • Plug in only the most essential appliances first, and wait 10 to 15 minutes to give the electrical system time to stabilize before connecting everything else.

How to report a power outage:

  • Call Toronto Hydro-Electric System’s Lights Out number at 416-542-8000. Add the number to your list of other emergency numbers.

After power is restored, try to limit electricity use to help relieve potential strain on the system. Energy conservation tips include:

  • Turning off all non-essential internal and external lights
  • Limiting the use of major power-consuming equipment such as dishwashers, washers and dryers.

With files from The Canadian Press