TORONTO - Violent winds and changing weather could set back efforts to restore power to tens of thousands in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick who are still in the dark after last weekend's crippling ice storm, authorities said Friday.
More homes and businesses could lose electricity even as hydro crews strive to bring the lights back on for those who have gone without power for six days, authorities warned.
Some may not get their electricity back until the new year, they said — a disheartening prospect for many who already spent the Christmas holiday without light or heat.
Utility companies and officials pleaded for patience, however, saying crews were working around the clock and nothing else could be done to speed up the process.
"I think we have done everything that we could've done," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a news conference.
"Are there lessons that can be learned? I think in every situation like this, there are things that we maybe need to understand and do better...but overall, the way the system has responded has been excellent."
Tricky weather conditions were hampering efforts in some areas, authorities said, while wind gusts expected in certain communities could bring down ice-laden tree branches, potentially cutting power to more customers.
"Our biggest concern is tonight, we might have wind gusts over 40 kilometres an hour... that's going to cause problems," Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said in a news conference.
Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said those winds could add to the outages that had been caused by what he called "one of the largest storms" in the utility's history.
"We feel for these customers and we understand their lives have been turned over as a result of this storm," he said.
"We're working as hard as possible and will not stop until the lights are back on for everyone."
Haines hesitated, however, to specify when the work would be complete, saying it would be "irresponsible" to give residents false hope in such an unpredictable situation.
The uncertainty rankled some residents who expressed frustration at the pace of the repairs.
"If this goes into next week, I don't know what we're going to do," said Chris Walder, 25, whose home in east-end Toronto remained without power and heat.
When the outage began, Walder, his parents and their dog took refuge in a nearby hotel for several nights, then stayed with a friend.
The family returned home Friday hoping to find everything back to normal, he said.
Instead, Walder found himself piling on six shirts, a sweater, coat and a toque to keep warm at home.
He said he hadn't seen a single hydro truck in his neighbourhood.
The storm has taken a toll on his health and his family's finances, he said, noting the costs of staying in a hotel and eating in restaurants quickly add up.
Roughly 25,750 Toronto homes and businesses and another 6,500 in the rest of Ontario were waiting for power to be restored Friday.
At the height of the storm, about 600,000 customers in the province were without hydro.
In Quebec, just over 400 customers remained without hydro Friday night and in New Brunswick, 12,500 customers were in the dark.
NB Power spokeswoman Deb Nobes said some progress was being made, and if conditions continued to improve, she hoped service would be restored by the end of Tuesday.
But another winter storm set to hit the province Sunday and Monday could hamper the recovery efforts, she warned.
— with files from Keith Doucette in Halifax