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Hundreds sleeping at warming centres as crews work to restore power

A Danforth Avenue spa advertises free hot showers for those without power on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.

CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS

Each time Roger Bernard goes home, his apartment seems a little more cold and grim.

The 72-year-old retired construction worker lives up four flights of stairs in a Toronto social housing building where the power has been out since early Sunday. He is one of hundreds of residents who have been sleeping at warming centres as hydro workers try to restore power to their homes.

Toronto Hydro said 69,800 customers were still without power Wednesday evening, four days after a massive ice storm struck the city, knocking down tree branches and snarling holiday plans. About 1,000 people slept at warming centres on Christmas Eve, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said.

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However, it is not clear how many others might be stuck without power or access to warming centres, because there has been no co-ordinated effort by the city to knock on doors in the affected areas. A spokesman from the city said Tuesday night that officials have been relying on the media, the city's website and its 311 phone line to inform people about the warming centres.

Mr. Bernard said he has spent his time reading and playing cards with new acquaintances at the warming centre, stopping by his house occasionally to check up on the place and retrieve his medication. "I got cold water and that's it. I opened the fridge and it smelled bad," he said of a recent visit.

He said he had to throw out all of his food but was treated to a pancake breakfast for Christmas, served by Toronto District School Board volunteers at the local school.

A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said high-rise apartments present a particular challenge because it can be difficult for some residents to leave their homes without access to their building's elevators.

Karen Snider said she knew of one elderly woman who had to phone police to help her get to a shelter because she could not use the stairs in her apartment building on her own. The woman and her 9-year-old grandson were brought to a warming centre on Tuesday, she said.

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation and Toronto's Community Care Access Centre, which provides home and community health care, have both been knocking on doors to check on their clients.

Deborah Brown, a spokeswoman for the City of Toronto, said councillors have been reaching out to their constituents, and volunteers from some faith organizations are knocking on doors. "What's been happening is [faith groups have] been calling in to us asking what they can do. And so our suggestion has been to go door to door," she said.

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Mr. Ford said Wednesday that some people are simply choosing to stay at home rather than move to the warming centres set up throughout the city. "I went by a few buildings yesterday and I tried to convince people to go. They just don't want to go," he said. "For some reason or another it seems like it's seniors are the ones that don't want to go. They just want to tough it out."

Asked about elderly residents who might be stranded without power, a spokesman for Emergency Management Ontario told reporters Tuesday that municipalities have their own staff – supported by the Red Cross and other organizations – to knock on doors. "If assistance is required … I think we have some members lined up from other organizations that can assist as well," Barney Owens said.

Robin Siegerman and her family remained at home after losing power Saturday night. They kept their living room warm using a wood fireplace and candles and boiled water on their gas stove to warm up the air in their kitchen. Ms. Siegerman, who had power restored Wednesday evening, said she sympathizes with the city and hydro workers who are trying to make repairs as quickly as they can. "The scale of it was bigger than anyone could have imagined," she said. "So as far as we're concerned, it's not going to help anyone to get angry about it and jump up and down about it. It's really unfortunate and I'm sure they're doing all that they can."

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Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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