A severe winter storm has left much of Canada battered on Christmas weekend with people still feeling the impacts of power outages, flight cancellations, and stranded luggage at airports days later.
Utility crews in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were still working Tuesday to restore electricity to thousands of people in the dark days after the storm knocked out their power.
Denis Lavoie, a resident of Quebec’s Laurentians region north of Montreal, told The Canadian Press that he was feeling increasingly abandoned after nearly five days without power.
Instead of seeing his children and grandchildren at Christmas, he and his wife stayed home, cooking hamburgers on a propane stove.
He said the estimated time of repair for their Mont-Tremblant home on Hydro-Quebec’s website kept changing, and he questioned why power couldn’t be restored more quickly.
“Outages of 24 or 36 hours, I can understand,” he said. “But not 106 hours in winter.”
Hydro-Quebec said on Tuesday that 95 per cent of customers had regained power since the extreme weather started on Friday.
Thousands of Quebecers still in the dark after major winter storm
However, by late afternoon, power was still out for about 25,000 Hydro-Quebec customers and around 5,000 Hydro One customers in Ontario.
“We’re still hoping to have the vast majority of our clients reconnected before the end of the day today,” Alex Bouchard of Hydro Quebec told Global News.
New Brunswick Power had restored electricity to a majority of residents impacted by the storm as of Tuesday, which it said caused one of the largest provincewide outages in 25 years.
Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled across Canada last week due to last week’s storm.
Susan Hawryluk flew out to Punta Cana with Sunwing on December 14 from the Saskatoon airport, with the intention of landing back home on December 21, but said Sunwing has kept canceling her flights home.
“I’ve got a granddaughter at home, it’s her very first Christmas this year — it was really tough to hear that and… the next day came along and it’s the exact same story,” said Hawryluk.
READ MORE: Some Via Rail trains in Ontario delayed, cancelled as winter storm continues
Sunwing isn’t alone in having issues. On Monday, 68 per cent of all Westjet flights were delayed, Air Canada was only slightly better at 62 per cent and for Porter, 44 per cent of flights were late to depart.
In the meantime, Canadian airlines are offering to compensate or rebook passengers whose flights have been cancelled.
Last week, Air Canada said it was implementing a “goodwill refund policy” due to the winter storm that allows customers to request a refund or travel voucher if they purchased a ticket no later than Dec. 21 for travel between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26.
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The federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations mandate airlines to pay up to $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that stem from reasons within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure.
Pearson airport faces backlog of stranded baggage
For those lucky enough to have gotten on a flight, many are ending up having to wait days for their bags to show up at their destinations, with little communication on the status of their luggage.
Images from Pearson International Airport show hundreds of lone bags piled up at the airport after major winter storms caused days of flight delays and cancellations, leaving many holiday travellers stranded.
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority said Pearson is experiencing a baggage backlog caused by those weather-related flight disruptions — as well as by frozen loading equipment.
“It’s three days later. I’m still trying to find my bag and… the best thing you can do is just go look through the bags, sift through the bags, see if you can find yours,” said Ron Bedard, one of the many travellers looking for their luggage at Pearson.
Even politicians weren’t immune to travel delays, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh telling Global News that he was among the people who are going back to Pearson to try and find his luggage.
“We had a couple of flight cancelations, lost luggage,” said Singh.
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GTAA spokesperson Rachel Bertone told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that airport employees are helping airline staff to clear stranded baggage.
“This morning, a significant amount of the backlog has been reunited with passengers; we expect many more bags to be dispersed by end of day.”
The authority also said extreme weather events in Western Canada and parts of the U.S. have had a “cascading effect” on its operations.
“While conditions have improved in Toronto, the weather systems in connected cities impacts delays and departures of airlines at Pearson,” Bertone said.
“These effects cascade across multiple airlines and airports, which is why it can take days to recover from weather disruptions of any kind, especially at times of peak travel.”
United States face another storm-related crisis
The U.S. Midwest and Northeast are bracing themselves for yet another storm-related crisis as they deal with the impacts of the most powerful winter storms in years.
As of Tuesday, Buffalo, NY, sits buried under at least a meter-and-a-half of snow, which resulted in a death toll approaching 30 — and the area is expected to see more snow.
Up to nine more inches of snow (23 centimeters) could fall in some areas of western New York through Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
“This is not the end yet,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, calling the blizzard “the worst storm probably in our lifetime,” even for an area accustomed to punishing snow.
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The storm also created a travel nightmare, stranding tens of thousands at airports, many of whom remain stuck.
Some 3,410 domestic and international flights were canceled Monday as of about 3 p.m. EDT, according to the tracking site FlightAware. The site said Southwest Airlines had 2,497 cancellations — about 60 per cent of its scheduled flights and about 10 times as many as any other major U.S. carrier.
Based on FlightAware data, airports all across the U.S. were suffering from cancellations and delays, including Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Baltimore and Chicago.
— With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Global News’ Mackenzie Gray and Reggie Cecchini.