US and Canada storms spell cold, dark Christmas for many

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Hundreds of thousands of households in Canada and the northern US are facing a Christmas without electricity after a severe ice storm.

Nearly 400,000 customers in eastern Canada and 390,000 in the US are still without power, with Michigan worst hit.

In Toronto, a utility has said power may not be restored for most residents until Thursday, and that some may be without electricity until the weekend.

The city has opened several warming centres for those without power.

At the scene

Torontonians are used to snow, but an ice storm is something different - and dangerous. Virtually every tree branch and twig is encased in ice. Many streets are blocked by fallen branches and festooned with yellow safety tape where live power lines have come down.

Trams are running again now overhead cables have been cleared of ice, but subway services are disrupted. Flights in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal have been delayed, if not cancelled altogether, at one of the busiest times of the year. Pedestrians are walking mainly in the road, avoiding pavements as slippery as skating rinks. On main roads traffic is moving, albeit with delays where traffic lights are not working because of power cuts.

The utility Toronto Hydro says it could be up to 72 hours before electricity is fully restored - well after Christmas Day. The city has opened warming centres for those without power, but many face a cold, dark and disrupted Christmas.

Temperatures as low as -15C are expected in southern Canada over the next few days. Five people have died in accidents on ice-covered Canadian roads.

At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the storm system in North America, including five people killed in flooding in Kentucky.

Up to 30mm (1.2in) of ice built up on trees and other surfaces in the greater Toronto area during the storm on Sunday.

Sheets of ice fell from buildings and moving vehicles, Canadian TV channel CBC said.

Via Rail warned customers travelling between Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa and New York to expect delays on Tuesday.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford resisted declaring a state of emergency, but said getting electricity to hospitals and community housing should be a priority.

He called the storm one of the worst in Toronto's history.

More than 100,000 customers had power restored in the city, but about 190,000 customers are still without power, he said.

Another 80,000 customers were without power in wider Ontario as well as about 34,000 in Quebec, 49,000 in New Brunswick and another 6,600 in Nova Scotia.

CBC's reporter Aaron Saltzman reports on the storm in Toronto

Toronto Hydro chief Anthony Haines said some customers might not get power back until 26 December.

Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips warned that the ice would remain as temperatures stayed below freezing.

"There's no natural melting going on," he said. "It's going to be human effort and endeavour that will get rid of the sheath of ice that's covering eastern Canada."

Flights were delayed or cancelled because of the storm in the US and Canada at one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

More than 390,000 people were also left without power in the northern US, including upstate New York, Michigan and Maine.

A spokesman for one of the Michigan electricity firms told the Detroit Free Press it could be the end of the week before power is restored.

The US National Weather Service is warning of very cold winds (-5 to -10C) and is advising people to stay indoors.

A snowplow clears a road in Waterville, Maine Freezing temperatures means there will be no natural melting of ice and snow
Pavement clearing in Toronto Tree damage during the storm has been described as extensive
A bicycle is covered with ice after freezing rain in Toronto Freezing rain fell over the weekend, causing icicles to form
Icicles on traffic lights in Toronto Although the storm has moved on, temperatures continue to be very low
Vehicles drive around ice-covered tree branches that came down after freezing rain Vehicles had to drive round the ice covered branches on Toronto streets
A giant inflatable Santa is knocked over behind a tree limb that has fallen over a power line following an ice storm Crews are working to restore power to homes in Toronto

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