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Workers work to repair downed power lines around Victoria Park and Denton Avenues in Scarborough on Dec. 23, 2013, after a severe ice storm hit Toronto. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)
Workers work to repair downed power lines around Victoria Park and Denton Avenues in Scarborough on Dec. 23, 2013, after a severe ice storm hit Toronto. (Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail)

Dark Christmas looms for thousands of Canadian households Add to ...

Thousands of homes and buildings remain without power across Central and Eastern Canada, as crews continue to work to restore service after an ice storm that threatens to leave people in the dark over Christmas.

The number of outages were down significantly from Monday evening, but the outages still stretched from southwestern Ontario to New Brunswick as of Tuesday afternoon.

The worst-hit area was still Toronto. Mayor Rob Ford – who has not yet spoken to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during the storm - tried to reassure residents without electricity in the middle of a cold snap that crews were working around the clock and that power would be restored for Boxing Day or the day after.

As of Wednesday morning, about 70,000 Toronto Hydro customers were still without power, the majority being in North York and Scarborough. A Toronto Hydro spokesperson said crews still haven't started on localized outages, which affect individual houses, and fixing those could be time-consuming.

Hydro One said under 50,000 customers across Ontario were still without power Tuesday evening.

Those without power could spend Christmas in the dark amid an extreme cold weather alert issued by the city.

“I would like to say this will be done tomorrow - that’s not going to happen, folks. We’re going to aim and do our very best for Thursday or Friday,” Mr. Ford said.

“I wish I could give you better news, but we are going in the right direction….”

Service resumed on the Sheppard subway Tuesday evening. The five-stop line was suspended for nearly three days after the ice storm hit the city.

Hydro crews from Ottawa and Windsor have arrived and will be assisting local restoration efforts, while crews from Manitoba and Michigan are likely to arrive tomorrow, Mr. Ford said. He added that restoring power to the last 50,000 customers would be the most challenging because it involves “one-offs,” or individuals houses on a street where there is power.

“You don’t simply re-energize a feeder [power line] where you may see 1,000 or 2,000 customers come on. You’re now into individual homes that you’re restoring, so that effort – as you can imagine – is much more time-consuming and labour-intensive,” Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said at a news conference Tuesday.

After recent revelations about Mr. Ford’s drug use and behaviour, Toronto city council voted to strip him of certain powers and hand them to deputy mayor Norm Kelly. It has raised questions about who is running the show for the city’s storm response.

Mr. Kelly stood behind Mr. Ford throughout a news conference Tuesday morning, but did not answer any questions. It has been reported that Mr. Ford had not been communicating with his deputy mayor throughout the storm’s relief efforts, while Ms. Wynne said Tuesday she and her office were dealing with Mr. Kelly and his office. She reached out to Mr. Kelly rather than Mr. Ford, who she has not yet spoken with since the storm hit.

“I have said consistently that we are dealing with the decision makers at City Hall,” she said, stressing the controversy around Mr. Ford hasn’t impacted the response, nor has his decision to not declare a state of emergency impacted what resources the province is providing.

“Whatever the politics are at City Hall really should have, and has had, no bearing on the province’s ability to work with officials in the city,” Ms. Wynne said, stressing she was dealing with “on-the-ground, operational decision makers.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long Term care has deployed its emergency operations centre to help Toronto hospitals deal with the impact of the storm.

In particular, Ms. Wynne said, an emergency medical assistance team been sent to Sunnybrook Hospital, and is providing more doctors, nurses and 30 additional beds.

Barney Owens, of Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Management, said the province’s emergency operations has been working with ministries -- including the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Government Services, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Health -- to support the affected municipalities.

In terms of helping people most in need, such as senior citizens, Mr. Owens said municipalities, with help from organizations like the Canadian Red Cross and Toronto Community Housing,  are responsible for knocking on doors to check on residents. If assistance is required, “I think we have some members lined up from other organizations that can assist as well,” he said.

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