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Thousands without power in Newfoundland

Thousands without power in Newfoundland A sidewalk plow works near the Nova Scotia legislature in blizzard conditions in Halifax on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Tens of thousands of Newfoundland Power customers were in the dark and buried in snow Saturday following a fire at a terminal station just hours after a powerful blizzard ripped through the region.

John MacIsaac of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said a transformer malfunctioned at the Sunnyside terminal station around 9 a.m. Saturday, causing a fire and initially knocking out power for 190,000 customers, mostly in eastern parts of Newfoundland.

He said the fire was eventually brought under control and no one was injured.

Gary Smith of Newfoundland Power said although progress was being made throughout Saturday to get people reconnected, some customers could be without power until Tuesday.

He said crews were working around the clock and utility teams from Prince Edward Island would arrive on Monday to help.

"We certainly do appreciate the patience of our customers," said Smith on Saturday around 6 p.m. local time, adding that about 140,000 customers were without power at that time. That figure, however, had fallen to about 25,000 by early Sunday according to the ultilty's Twitter feed.

"I do truly understand the agony that you're going through."

The province had already been grappling with rolling blackouts implemented Thursday evening by the utility as it tried to cope with increased demand because of bitterly cold temperatures. The utility said the rotating outages would continue overnight Saturday and into Sunday and were unrelated to the fire at the terminal station.

Dawn Dalley, vice-president of corporate relations at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, said the cause of the malfunction at the Sunnyside terminal station is not yet known. She said the power trip forced the utility to take customers off the grid in order to balance the system.

Warming centres were opening up across the province Saturday. The power outage and issues with a pump station prompted the small neighbouring communities of Freshwater and Argentia to declare a state of emergency, the mayor of Placentia said on Saturday evening.

"There was uncertainty that our water supply would be able to supply our residents," said Wayne Power of the roughly 350 households. "We're asking residents to conserve water."

Power said a technician was working to fix the issue at the pump station. He said a comfort centre was set up for people looking to warm up.

"People are coping with it well," said Power. "They're getting a hot cup of tea when they can and waiting for the utilities to bring things back to normal."

Newfoundland and Labrador's Fire and Emergency Services issued a statement Saturday saying the outages were being closely monitored and urged customers to conserve power once it is restored.

Much of Atlantic Canada spent Saturday cleaning up after a blizzard that whipped through the Maritimes on Friday before passing southeast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula overnight.

Environment Canada meteorologist David Neil said although the blizzard had moved offshore by Saturday morning, high winds were lingering in eastern Newfoundland.

He said winds of 100 kilometres per hour were causing blowing snow in some areas.

"It's caused some poor driving conditions and the winds have caused some issues with power outages," Neil said from Gander, N.L, adding that about 38 centimetres of snow was recorded at the St. John's International Airport.

RCMP in western Newfoundland were asking people only to venture onto the roads in emergencies. Numerous flights out of the St. John's airport were cancelled and delayed.

Meanwhile, forecasters said a frigid Arctic air mass would persist over northwestern portions of Newfoundland, where cold temperatures and strong winds were expected to produce wind chill values reaching -35 C.

The storm forced cancellation of flights, interrupted public transit and closed roads, government offices, universities and businesses in parts of the Maritimes on Friday.

It hit particularly hard in Nova Scotia, where retail outlets including liquor stores in Halifax, the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore were closed early. Bus service in Halifax was also suspended for the day.

— By Aly Thomson in Halifax

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