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Quebec hydro workers race to restore power by Christmas

A man walks along Lakeshore Boulevard as snow falls in Montreal Friday, December, 21, 2012.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Hydro-Québec workers rode snowmobiles and trudged into forest by snowshoe as they raced to restore power in time for Christmas to thousands of Quebeckers without electricity.

Some 32,000 households had gone three days or more without power by late Sunday, as temperatures dipped to well below zero. Eight hundred workers were cutting up downed trees and putting up new lines, even as heavy snow weighing down branches continued to knock out power.

Hydro officials were hopeful they would restore most of the power on Christmas Eve, but it seemed likely at least some households would be without electricity.

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"We're working hard to make sure people have electricity by Christmas, but wet snow is still breaking tree limbs and knocking down our lines. It's making things very difficult," said Sophie Lamoureux, a regional manager at Hydro-Québec .

A wide swath of Quebec north of the Ottawa-Montreal corridor was hit with more than 60 centimetres of snow Thursday and Friday. About 110,000 homes were without power for some period since then.

Emergency centers have been set up in a number of towns, but reported little traffic. Most houses have fireplaces and wood-burning stoves in the Laurentian mountains, where two-thirds of the outages were reported.

Catherine Thoueille, who lives in a quiet, isolated neighbourhood of Saint-Adolphe-d'Howard, said she has managed to keep her home around 18 degrees by feeding her fireplace every three hours. She's used up most of her firewood.

"All you can do is stay zen about it. We can't change anything, we're at Hydro's mercy. But I don't know how much longer this can go on," she said.

Ms. Thoueille took advantage of the local warming centre to take a shower Sunday. She said like many of her neighbours she's hesitant to leave her home for any extended period because pipes would likely freeze and burst.

Ms. Thoueille said she hasn't started making any Christmas contingency plans. "We're taking it one day at a time up here."

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