Severe winter weather grounded flights and grounded nine Via Rail trains between Ontario and Quebec on Saturday as snow, freezing rain, high winds and rain ravaged much of the country and scuttled travel plans of Christmas Eve in chaos.
Power outages and impassable roads have prompted three towns in Ontario’s Niagara region to declare a state of emergency and implore residents to stay off the roads, while New Brunswick grapples with one of its largest power outages in the province for decades.
The only provinces or territories not affected by Environment Canada’s weather warning or statement as of early Saturday night are Nunavut and Nova Scotia.
Vee Grunda was one of many passengers stranded without food or water on a Via Rail train in Cobourg, Ontario. He said the train stopped around 11 pm Friday and as of noon Saturday many were still on board looking for answers on what to do next.
“We had panic attacks and then we had people with diabetes. We had a two-month-old baby, we had a group of elderly people,” Grunda said in a phone interview. “They didn’t turn off the light…so there was no sleep. Everything is just tense.”
Some passengers jumped off the train and ventured into the snow, climbing yards to find the main route, he said.
Eventually a replacement train arrives to take Grunda and her traveling companions to their destination.
Via Rail said nine trains running between Quebec City and Windsor, Ont., were delayed by weather-related power outages or downed trees. Seven other trains were completely canceled on Saturday morning, the train company said in a statement.
Some passengers said on social media that they had been stuck on trains for more than 18 hours without food or water.
The company said it is trying to keep customers as comfortable as possible and get them to their final destinations, either by moving frozen trains forward or by bringing in new trains that can carry passengers safely. safe.
But Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra posted a tweet in the afternoon describing the situation at the national rail carrier as “unacceptable”.
“We are contacting them to resolve any issues in a safe and efficient manner,” he wrote. “The unprecedented weather has caused delays to our transportation system and the safety of passengers and crew is our top priority.”
In southern Ontario, the communities of Port Colborne, Wainfleet and Fort Erie have all declared a state of emergency, citing power outages and unsafe driving conditions.
“Getting out can put you at risk and danger because emergency first responders may not be able to respond to calls,” Wainfleet Township said in a tweet.
“If you are at home without power, please do what you can to keep warm, help friends, family and neighbors where it is safe to do so,” said a warning on the city’s website. town of Port Colborne.
The Niagara Regional Police Service also urged the public to stay home, writing in a statement that emergency crews may not be able to respond to calls because roads are impassable.
By 5 pm Saturday, the massive storm that caused all the chaos had affected six provinces and was moving into Ontario and Quebec, said Environment Canada meteorologist Victoria Nurse.
Parts of southern and northeastern Ontario are likely to see snow flurries from the Great Lakes overnight and into Christmas Day, he said.
“It’s definitely a big deal,” he said. “One of the biggest impacts was the wind which caused a lot of blowing snow and reduced visibility and collisions on the roads.
“So our biggest takeaway today and tomorrow is to travel carefully. Try to avoid traveling, but if you must travel, travel carefully.”
Ontario Provincial Police reported the first road fatality in the province since the storm began, and officials are investigating whether or not the extreme weather played a role.
Hydro One said just over 50,000 customers were without power in Ontario Saturday night.
In Quebec, Environment Canada warned of heavy snowfall and blowing snow in the southwestern Matagami and Waskaganish regions, as well as storm surges in coastal areas of St. Lawrence River.
Hydro-Quebec reported more than 183,000 customers out on Saturday night. The situation prompted a tweet from Prime Minister François Legault.
“I know this isn’t the Christmas many are hoping for,” he wrote. “Hydro-Québec teams are doing everything they can to reconnect many residences as soon as possible.”
“Please check with your relatives if they live alone. Also be careful on the roads, the conditions are not ideal. For those who want to warm up, places are ready to welcome you in many cities and towns.”
Flights were canceled and delayed at major airports in Ontario and Quebec and police closed sections of provincial highways due to hazardous driving conditions.
A company statement said WestJet canceled 60 of its 500 scheduled flights on Saturday. The airline has canceled 1,307 flights since December 18.
In Ontario, staff at a pet boarding service in the township of Oro-Medonte, near Barrie, have been calling owners who have been sidelined because of weather delays who can’t get home to pick up their furry family members.
“We have owners who are not coming back, but they are happy that their pets are safe here for Christmas with us,” said Tallis Kostuik, operations manager at Royal Pets Hotel and Enrichment.
Rain and strong winds are also expected on Christmas Eve in the Maritimes, where the storm is expected to move into Newfoundland and Labrador on Saturday night.
More than 25,000 customers on Canada’s east coast were without power Saturday night, most of them – more than 18,000 – in New Brunswick.
A statement from NB Power said more than 71,000 customers were without power at the height of the outage.
“This is one of the province’s largest losses in 25 years,” said company spokesman Marc Belliveau.
Nationally, much of southern British Columbia is under a rainfall warning. Environment Canada called for accumulations between 25 and 50 millimeters in Metro Vancouver, with more expected near the North Shore mountains.
Vancouver Island could see up to 125mm and parts of the island are under a watch.
After about half of the flights out of Vancouver International Airport were canceled on Friday, President and CEO Tamara Vrooman said Saturday that the airport is fully operational and about 93% of scheduled flights are leaving.
“Some cancellations are happening due to weather events in other parts of the country and other parts of the continent, but for the most part we are operating as normal here at YVR,” he said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 24, 2022. With files from Tyler Griffin in Toronto, Jacob Serebrin in Montreal, Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax and Ashley Joannou in Vancouver.