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Mayhem reaches coast as cleanup continues

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A worker clears branches from power lines in Toronto after the ice storm downed trees and cut off electricity.

MATTHEW SHERWOOD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

A worker clears branches from power lines in Toronto after the ice storm downed trees and cut off electricity.

TORONTO -- A nasty ice storm that left hundreds of thousands without power in Ontario and Quebec tracked through the Maritimes on Monday as authorities worked frantically to clear tree-strewn roadways, restore downed hydro lines and get stranded travellers to their destinations.

Hydro companies in the Greater Toronto Area -- which appeared to be the hardest hit by the weather system -- warned some residents to brace for the possibility of being without power until Boxing Day or later.

Some neighbourhoods resembled crime scenes, with yellow police tape used to cordon off areas where electric wires or large trees had come crashing down over the weekend. Sidewalks around some highrise buildings were also closed off due to the risk of falling ice.

Meanwhile, travellers trying to get home for the holidays continued to face delays and cancellations on airlines and trains.

Environment Canada said the storm had hit Eastern Canada hard.

"It was a mighty blow," senior climatologist David Phillips told The Canadian Press. "It came at a really difficult time for people travelling and doing last-minute shopping."

The weather agency said the system had turned particularly vicious thanks to a combination of warm air from Texas colliding with cold air over Canada to create a drawn-out period of freezing rain.

"We had freezing rain from south of London, all the way through to Ottawa and Montreal and southern Quebec and now today to central and southern new Brunswick, all of P.E.I. and most of Nova Scotia," Phillips said Monday.

"The geographical reach of this nasty, nasty storm is really affecting millions of Canadians in Eastern Canada."

While the freezing rain was expected to peter out by today, Phillips warned the ice it brought would remain as temperatures stayed below freezing.

"There's no natural melting going on," he said. "It's going to be human effort and endeavour that will get rid of the sheath of ice that's covering Eastern Canada."

The situation meant utility companies working to restore power to thousands of homes had to deal with the possibility ice-laden tree limbs could continue to splinter, snapping power lines.

Crews were working around the clock to get the lights back on in cities and towns across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, but warned there was a possibility not everyone would be reconnected by Christmas Day.

Kelly Mathews was among those bracing for that scenario. "I'm hosting Christmas this year. Starting (today) all of my family is arriving," said the Aurora, Ont., resident, who lost power early Sunday morning.

"I've been running everything down from my freezer and fridge to the garage to keep it cold. I had just done all of my food shopping."

While Mathews hoped her power would be back on by Wednesday, she planned to move the holiday meal to her parents home in Thornhill, Ont. -- where the lights are still on -- if she remained in the dark.

Making such alternative arrangements was being encouraged by utility companies on Monday.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 A13

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