Damaged power lines are seen in Dartmouth, N.S., on Tuesday. Thousands of Nova Scotia Power customers are without electricity after a Christmas Day windstorm wreaked havoc across the province, interrupting dinners and disrupting travel. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Damaged power lines are seen in Dartmouth, N.S., on Tuesday. Thousands of Nova Scotia Power customers are without electricity after a Christmas Day windstorm wreaked havoc across the province, interrupting dinners and disrupting travel. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Power returns to Nova Scotia after windstorm left thousands in the dark

Tens of thousands of Nova Scotians are back on the electrical grid as crews worked Tuesday to repair power lines damaged by a major Christmas Day storm in Atlantic Canada.

About 17,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia remained without electricity as of about 5:30 p.m. local time, the province’s power utility said.

Nova Scotia Power spokeswoman Tiffany Chase said about 139,000 affected customers had their power restored by late Tuesday afternoon.

She said more than 700 personnel are working “around the clock” to get the rest of the province back on the grid, including contract crews from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The utility estimated that 90 per cent of affected customers will see their power come back on by late Tuesday evening, Chase said, and the remaining isolated outages should be resolved by Wednesday afternoon.

“We know it is the holidays and many people have plans for things like turkey dinners,” Chase said.

“We do appreciate their patience as our crews continue to safely work to restore power to customers as quickly as possible.”

In total, approximately 158,000 Nova Scotians have been affected by the outages, Chase said, amounting to nearly one-third of the utility’s 507,000 customers throughout the province. The province’s south shore, Dartmouth and Sydney were among the areas most affected, she said.

Chase said as the wind died down, helicopters and vehicles were deployed to survey the damage throughout the province, which included downed trees, snapped power lines and damaged utility poles.

The utility has set up four “comfort centres” in Shelburne, Chester, Kentville and Stellarton where Nova Scotians without power can warm up and charge their devices Tuesday and Wednesday.

Chase encouraged homeowners to check their meter masts for damage, which they would be responsible for fixing, and must be repaired by an electrician before power can be restored.

Paul Mason, executive director of the provincial government’s Emergency Management Office, said aside from the power outages, he was not aware of any reports of major infrastructure damage.

He warned residents who are using generators, barbecues and other gas-powered appliances to beware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which killed two people and injured several others during a devastating ice storm in New Brunswick last January that caused widespread power outages for days.

Staff Sgt. Robert Fox of Halifax Regional Police said the city’s major arteries have been cleared after downed electrical lines, shattered glass and other debris that temporarily disrupted traffic.

Fox said he had heard reports of trees crushing cars, a toppled port-a-potty and splintered trunks, but it appeared that property damage in the city has been relatively minor.

Scott Ferro, an amateur woodcraftsman who lives near Peggy’s Cove, said he and his wife have spent eight hours helping their neighbours move misplaced boulders, clear brush and chop up trees that were knocked over or partially uprooted by the forceful winds.

Lawn ornaments, patio furniture and Christmas decorations were strewn across backyards, Ferro said, and some houses have lost shingles and some siding.

“It just looks more like chaos than any other real damage,” he said. “I’m leaving (all the firewood) behind for someone else who needs it. I don’t mind doing the hard part.”

Holly Slauenwhite in Blockhouse on Nova Scotia’s south shore said she and her two-year-old son are staying with a friend after sleeping off a candlelit Christmas dinner on Monday under layers of blankets in a home without heat or running water.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas now, I can tell you that much, because you can’t light your Christmas tree,” Slauenwhite said. “It was kind of nice having a Christmas dinner without technology in the way, but I’m ready for power.”

A low-pressure system barrelled across the eastern seaboard and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence over Christmas and was hovering over Newfoundland on Tuesday, Environment Canada said.

The weather agency recorded gusts in excess of 100 km/h throughout much of Nova Scotia, reaching hurricane-force speeds at their peak in some areas, preliminary reports indicate.

Nova Scotia was also doused in a mix of snow, freezing rain and rain on Christmas Day, and Tuesday’s forecast calls for a few centimetres of snow with winds gusting up to 50 km/h as the storm moves away.

Environment Canada has issued warnings of severe winds, blowing snow and blizzard conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador, which the agency said could persist until Wednesday in some parts of the province.

NL Hydro reported outages early Tuesday affecting Port Saunders, Eddies Cove and Port Au Choix, but said all power was restored by the mid-afternoon.

Several flights have been delayed or cancelled in Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., and Marine Atlantic has cancelled ferry crossings until Wednesday.