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The number of Hydro-Quebec customers without power dropped by more than 5,000 Thursday, though the utility said it was unsure when everyone who lost electricity during last week’s major winter storm would be reconnected.

By late Thursday afternoon, around 6,000 hydro customers across the province were without power – down from more than 11,000 earlier in the day.

Spokeswoman Lynn St-Laurent said that while the utility would like to tell customers when their electricity will return, it’s difficult to estimate because most of those who are still without power are in remote areas and require complex repairs.

“We hope to really get as much done as we can today, but this will go into tomorrow,” she said in an interview Thursday, adding that it’s not clear whether work would still be ongoing by Saturday.

Around 1,300 hydro workers were on the ground, she said, adding that 97 per cent of customers who lost power during the Christmas storm had been reconnected.

The Laurentians region, located north of Montreal, and the Quebec City area were the most affected Thursday, with nearly 1,700 customers in each region without power. In the Outaouais region, in western Quebec, where around 1,500 customers didn’t have electricity early in the day, all but 63 had been reconnected a few hours later.

“In a lot of these cases, the work required is long work; we see entire trees that have fallen over onto the grid, so these are repairs that take longer and these are in locations where there are less clients,” St-Laurent said. “So it’s a lot of work to make that repair and once that’s done, it’s a smaller number of customers that are reconnected again.”

In some cases, workers are travelling by snowmobile or on foot, wearing snowshoes and carrying their equipment, she said.

The storm that brought wind, freezing rain and snow hit Quebec on Dec. 23, and at its height knocked out power for more than 350,000 customers. The long-lasting outages have raised concerns that Quebec’s grid is fragile and that the province is unprepared for its shift away from fossil fuels.

An auditor general’s report in December found that Hydro-Quebec’s service has become less reliable and that the provincial Crown corporation isn’t fully equipped to handle the challenges associated with an aging grid.

St-Laurent said the utility has a climate change adaptation plan to respond to increasingly violent storms, including to reinforce transmission lines and replace wooden polls with stronger composite poles.

The utility, she added, plans to increase its tree-pruning budget to around $126 million a year by 2024, up from around $60 million in 2018.