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The Globe and Mail

Toronto’s east side hardest hit by ice storm

Workers from Stacey Electric, a Toronto Hydro subcontractor, work to repair downed power lines around Victoria Park and Denton Avenues in Scarborough, Monday, December 23, 2013, after a severe ice storm hit Toronto.

Galit Rodan/CP

The city of Toronto and the electricity company that is working around the clock to restore power to an estimated 300,000 residents said its efforts are now focused on the city's east end.

"Scarborough is probably the worst hit area, we're concentrating on that. There's still people out in North York and Etobicoke, but Scarborough is definitely the hardest hit area. I will be going out there today," said Mayor Rob Ford.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Ford said that many residents without power can expect electricity restored on Boxing Day or the day after – which means a dark and very cold Christmas as residents endure a cold snap that forced the city to issue an extreme cold weather alert.

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Christmas Eve temperatures are expected to be minus 12 C – which will feel a lot like minus 20 degrees Celsius, according to weather forecasts. The city opened up police stations to the public in addition to community and recreation centres that are being used by residents to keep warm, get some rest, food and water – and to charge electronic devices.

Toronto Hydro confirmed that a majority of its crews – as well as additional crews from cities like Ottawa – were being redeployed to Scarborough to restore power.

"Definitely in the north and northeast, including all the way down to the lake line… all of the areas in Scarborough that have overhead infrastructure have been hit significantly hard," said Tanya Bruckmueller, Toronto Hydro spokesperson.

The early morning news conference left the impression that city officials and Toronto Hydro had only just discovered the scale of the impact on Scarborough – more than 48 hours after widespread power outages were reported across the city.

But Toronto Hydro was quick to dispel such suggestions. "That's not true," said Ms. Bruckmueller. "We've had crews deployed everywhere … It's not a matter of who gets to go first, it's a matter of how do we address this logically – much of the restoration effort has been focused on cleaning up. The first 48 hours is just a matter of assessing everything, doing a lot of the cleanup. Our electrical crews cannot do the work until the area is clear and safe," she added.

Toronto Hydro says crews in parts of west Toronto were able to clean damage quicker than expected, allowing them to join other crews already at work in Scarborough where the damage has been more severe and the cleanup slow-going.

Ms. Bruckmueller said the extent of the damage in Scarborough had nothing do with the way the electricity infrastructure is set-up. "It's just the way the storm hit," she said. "It's just that Scarborough may be closer to the lake, who knows. It's Mother Nature that's made the decision for us," she added.

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Toronto Hydro says 115,000 customers remain without power. With each customer representing about three residents, the estimated number of people affected is close to 300,000. (Check Toronto Hydro's website for an updated map.)

Along with Scarborough, Toronto Hydro is also working to restore power in other hard-hit areas – in North York, East York, Leaside and 20,000 customers still without power in parts of west Toronto, she said.

Toronto Hydro is trying to restore about 40 feeder transmission lines – or primary lines – which can put large chunks of the populations back online with electricity every time one is restored.

The next challenge will be to deal with the secondary lines – that work will be "slow going once we get over the feeders," said Ms. Bruckmueller, as crews work to restore power in areas where fallen trees have knocked out power to individual homes rather than the entire street.

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