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Hurricane Sandy gains strength, set to hit Canada Monday

Waves crash over Eric Mongirdas as the storm surge caused by Hurricane Sandy pummels the coastline in Milford, Connecticut October 29, 2012

Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

Hurricane Sandy gained strength overnight and its effects will sweep into Canada Monday, with its lash expected to reach up to northern Ontario and east to the coast.

High winds, severe rains and major waves were expected and experts were warning people to brace themselves and prepare for the possibility of losing power.

"I think the worst conditions will be in the overnight hours," Bob Robichaud, program manager for the Canadian Hurricane Centre, told a mid-day briefing.

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A Toronto woman in her 50s died after flying debris hit her on the head, according to Toronto EMS.

Toronto police Staff Sergeant Bruce Morrison said the woman was walking in a parking lot when part of a sign from a nearby business became loose because of the strong wind and fell. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene around 7:30 p.m.

An update by the hurricane centre had the storm about 450 kilometres south-southeast of New York around noon. It was starting to increase in speed and moving at about 30 kilometres per hour. It is a huge weather system, with winds extending 1,000 kilometres from the centre.

"We have a very intense storm, maximum winds right now are 150 kilometres per hour," Mr. Robichaud told reporters. "This particular system is going to affect southern Ontario, even into northern Ontario, and all the way to the Maritimes."

Hundreds of flights to Canada were affected Monday as the country started to feel the effects of the incoming storm.

Canadian airlines warned that flights from a long list of cities in the North-eastern United States would be affected. Buses and trains were quickly booked solid by people seeking travel alternatives out of the storm's path. A wind warning for Toronto was issued Monday morning by Environment Canada and Porter Airlines, which uses a small airport downtown, announced that it would stop all flights at 3 p.m.

"This one is a biggie because it's affecting so many people," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada, who called it "a monster gigantic storm".

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Strong winds are being blamed for 6,000 power outages throughout Toronto as of 8:30 p.m. Monday

Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Jennifer Link said the outages are spread out across the city, and that crews have to be deployed to individual homes to assess the damage and carry out repairs.

"Because of the large number of calls, several people could be without power overnight," said Ms. Link.

In Ontario, Hydro One spokeswoman Nancy Shaddick said there are 14,000 customers without power as a result of the storm.

In a statement Sunday, the Canadian Red Cross urged people in the storm's path to have supplies on hand that would allow them to survive 72 hours without power.

"By taking some time now to store emergency food, water and other supplies, you can provide for your entire family during a power outage or evacuation," Denis Dion, national director of disaster management was quoted saying.

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Sandy's danger lies in its size, covering a huge swath of area that is far from the centre of the storm.

Highly populated cities in Southern Ontario, including Toronto, will be affected by Sandy later Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Forecasts are predicting waves up to seven metres high over southern Lake Huron and five metres on Lake Ontario.

"It is unusual, of course, to get waves of that magnitude on the Great Lakes," said Etienne Gregoire, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

Environment Canada warned late-morning Monday that the Toronto area could experience "severe winds" gusting up to 100 km/h beginning this evening.

"Potentially hazardous winds are expected in these regions," the warning said. "... Winds of this strength can break tree limbs and even knock over weak or shallow rooted trees. Some power outages are likely should any limbs or trees fall across power lines."

As far as rainfall, Southern Ontario was forecast to get between 20 and 30 millimetres. Complicating this, however, is the possibility that the rain could change to snow, says the centre's forecast, over parts of Ontario and Western Quebec as temperatures dip.

The Quebec City region could also face flooding as because of expected higher than normal water levels on the St. Lawrence River. Flooding could happen Monday and Tuesday evening.

The Maritime provinces, meanwhile, could see significant amounts of rain - more than 50 millimetres to fall Tuesday morning and into Wednesday. This is because of another system, however, that is not related to Sandy.

In terms of wind and waves, coastal communities along the southwestern part of Nova Scotia will see five to seven metre waves. Gale and storm force winds are predicted for the three Maritime provinces, says the centre's more recent report.

Meanwhile, the storm diverted Empress Princess, a Florida-bound cruise ship that had departed Quebec City. More than 5,000 passengers got an unscheduled look at Saguenay after the cruise line cancelled planned stops in the Maritimes because of the storm.

With reports  from The Globe and Mail's Jill Mahoney and Vidya Kauri and The Canadian Press

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