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Toronto ice storm repairs in home stretch

Toronto ice storm repairs in home stretchHydro One worker Sean Williams manoeuvres his way through branches as his crew work to restore power to a house in a Scarborough neighbourhood on Friday, December 27, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO - Hydro crews in Toronto were close to crossing the "finish line" Sunday in bringing power back to those still in the dark eight days after a massive ice storm.

Toronto Hydro said late Sunday night that power had been restored to all but 3,000 customers, and work on those outages would continue through the night.

Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said earlier Sunday he expected the remaining homes and businesses would be back on the grid by Monday.

"It's now an hour-to-hour situation when we will then be able to say that all of our customers' power has been restored," he said in a news conference.

"I described to you yesterday that I could see the finish line in sight. I think I'm now almost standing on the finish line."

Toronto Hydro said crews were focusing on restoring localized problems affecting apartment and condominium buildings, and individual homes.

Many of the remaining homes are in neighbourhoods where crews must enter backyards on foot, carrying equipment and using ladders to climb poles and make repairs.

Outside of Toronto, Hydro One and other utilities indicated about 1,500 customers were without power.

Things were also looking up in Quebec, with those affected by storm-related outages now reconnected, Hydro Quebec said.

A new winter storm expected late Sunday threatened to derail efforts in New Brunswick, where fewer than 3,400 customers remained without electricity on Sunday night.

NB Power said it hoped most customers would have light and heat by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, but warned that could change depending on the storm's effect on ice-laden trees.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said things are largely back to normal outside Toronto.

With the end of the winter ordeal in sight, officials turned their attention to compensation for those forced to toss out spoiled food as the outages stretched on.

Wynne said the province is drawing up a plan to replace wasted food with the help of the private sector.

The grocery giant Loblaw Co. is chipping in $25,000 in gift cards to help restock fridges, Wynne said, pledging to match the donation dollar for dollar.

"It is the food compensation that we're most concerned about and it is food compensation that I think is most quantifiable and we'll be able to deal with," she said.

It's too soon to tell what the financial impact will be for the city of Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford said.

The mayor said he's asked to hold a special council meeting Jan. 10 to formally ask the province for disaster relief.

Toronto Hydro alone is facing an estimated bill of up to $10 million, its CEO said.

While Haines said the utility would review its budget to look for additional funds, he wouldn't rule out the possibility that ratepayers may be called in to pick up the tab.

At the peak of the outages, some 600,000 homes and businesses in Ontario — including 300,000 in Toronto — were in the dark, matched by 317,000 Hydro Quebec customers and roughly 50,000 in New Brunswick.

— With files from Aly Thomson in Halifax

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