Extreme weather leaves more than 200k without power, 19 dead in US and Canada

Posted at 7:13 AM, Dec 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-27 07:13:05-05

By Jason Hanna and Holly Yan

(CNN) — If it’s cold outside and you have electricity, consider yourself lucky.

Thousands of people in the northern United States and southeastern Canada have endured at least four days without power because of ice-related outages. And for some, the heat might not come back on until this weekend, utility companies said.

More than 232,000 customers were without power in below-freezing temperatures Thursday in parts of Michigan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and northern New England.

The winter weather has also turned deadly. At least 19 people have died in weather-related incidents since Saturday.

Fourteen of those deaths were in the United States; the majority died of carbon monoxide poisoning, emergency management officials said. Carbon monoxide poisoning often occurs when people run generators inside their homes.

Another five people died in Canada from carbon monoxide poisoning, including three people in Quebec and two in Toronto, officials said.

In areas near Toronto, where officials said the storm was one of the worst to hit the city, more than 54,000 were without power Thursday. While that’s down from 300,000 at the peak, utility officials there declined to estimate when the last outages would be fixed.

“It’s taking long because we haven’t seen a storm like this in our history,” Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Tanya Bruckmueller told CNN affiliate CBC News. “The amount of damage to both our equipment due to the trees coming down is slowing us down, as well as this morning we’ve got snow coming, which is much heavier on the branches and is now covering a lot of what we need to be repairing.”

Toronto resident Vic Baniuk told CBC on Thursday that his family hasn’t had power for five days, and they were using a fireplace and a cast-iron stove to stay warm.

“We’re sitting in the dark and cold, and I feel that everybody has ignored us,” he told CBC.

A tree branch pierced his roof, making a bad situation worse.

“This is not an inconvenience. This is an emergency, a disaster,” Baniuk said.

The temperature in Toronto isn’t expected to rise above freezing until Saturday, with a forecast high of 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit).

Another 16,000 people were without power Thursday elsewhere in southern Ontario; 20,500 had no electricity in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, and another 8,900 still had outages in Quebec province, utility companies said.

Power to the people

Power crews were working around the clock and called in reinforcements from other states to help them wrangle electric lines back into place.

In Michigan, ice could finally start melting Saturday, when temperatures could reach the high 30s or lower 40s. But Michigan power company Consumers Energy warned that the thaw could cause more outages by allowing tree branches to snap and crash in to power lines.

Consumers Energy said it expected to have most of the outages fixed by the end of Saturday.

About 600 customers had no power in parts of Vermont on Thursday morning. Roughly 30,000 people still were without electricity in Maine.

With no power in her Litchifield, Maine, home on Wednesday afternoon, Mary Beth King cooked her family’s Christmas dinner — seafood chowder — on an outdoor grill, CNN affiliate WGME reported.

‘Room at the inn’

But many of those who lost power found generosity and new friends after turning to shelters to stay warm.

More than 200 people took refuge Thursday in Red Cross shelters in Michigan and Maine, according to the group’s online shelter tracker.

Bonnie Libby told CNN affiliate WOOD that after living with shelter mates for three days, she now describes them as “friends and family.”

The outage was a cure for loneliness on Christmas Day for Larry Sutherland.

If not for “I would be spending it alone, and my Christmas dinner would be a microwave meal.”

CNN’s Mayra Cuevas, Stephanie Gallman, Kevin Conlon, Carma Hassan and Matt Daniel contributed to this report.

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