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Canada Winter storm leaves flooded streets and thousands without power amid plunging temperatures

A pedestrian braves the elements at the start of a major winter storm in Saint John, N.B. on Jan. 20, 2019.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

A powerful storm brought heavy snow and rain and bitter temperatures to much of Eastern and Central Canada, reminding Canadians of the many ways an unforgiving climate can disrupt their lives.

The widespread storm closed schools, flooded streets, knocked out power and forced school buses to stay off the roads in many areas Monday as temperatures began to plummet.

In Quebec and Ontario, extreme cold warnings remained in place with wind chills expected to drop to almost minus 40 in Toronto.

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In some areas, though, it was warm temperatures that caused havoc.

In Saint John, N.B., some streets were knee-deep in water as a result of heavy rain that followed hours of snow and ice pellets – clogging catch basins.

“This time of the year the water has nowhere to go and if the drains are clogged, the water rises. That resulted in one apartment building being evacuated and a number of cars being abandoned,” said Geoffrey Downey, a spokesman for New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization.

But with temperatures set to plummet, tow trucks were brought in to move stranded cars before they froze in place.

Many Canadian figure skaters remained stranded in Saint John Monday after the storm hit on the last day of the national skating championships.

More than half of the flights out of the city’s airport were cancelled due to the weather.

The Canadian championships brought between 400 and 500 people – skaters, coaches, officials, and various staff members – to the event. Many were forced to extend their stay as they looked for rescheduled flights.

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“We’ve got limited flights for people to change to, and it’s still an unknown as to how many flights are going to get out and when,” said Terry Sheahan, the senior director of marketing and events for Skate Canada.

Montreal and Ottawa were looking at daytime highs of just minus 15 to 17 with icy wind chills as low as minus 40 where exposed skin can suffer frostbite in just minutes.

In Oakville, it was so cold Monday morning, crossing guards were called off duty for much of the day.

In Montreal, they even cancelled a festival dedicated to snow. The city said Sunday it was suspending the Fete des Neiges due to the snowy, windy and cold weather as well as the dangerous conditions on Quebec’s roads.

The storm proved deadly for the 93-year-old mother of former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.

The coroner’s office is investigating after Helene Rowley Hotte was found in the snow outside a retirement home in east-end Montreal. She had been locked out after leaving the building because of a fire alarm.

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Ian Hubbard, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the tracking of the system brought a variety of conditions across the Maritimes in terms of precipitation and temperatures.

“New Brunswick was the hardest hit in terms of snow, particularly northern New Brunswick,” he said.

Bas-Caraquet, in northeast New Brunswick recorded 41 centimetres of new snow, while parts of Nova Scotia got up to 15 centimetres snow followed by 30 – 60 millimetres of rain.

Several Toronto school boards, including the Toronto public and Catholic boards, decided to cancel bus service out of concerns that frigid temperatures could delay travel and put students at risk as they wait for pickup.

NB Power reported about 3,000 customers were without electricity, while Nova Scotia Power said about 34 outages were affecting just over 1,100 customers.

Not everyone is complaining about the inclement weather. Cory Hamilton of Saint John was making the most of the ice covered streets – using them as his personal skating rink.

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Video posted on Facebook showed Hamilton skating down a number of icy streets – even picking up coffee as he skated up to a Tim Horton’s drive-thru window.

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