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Snow and high winds pelting GTA as major winter storm arrives

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After a “big shot of rain,” the GTA should brace for swiftly dropping temperatures and a day of blowing snow, warns Environment Canada meteorologist Mitch Meredith.

Already the agency says “dangerously low visibilities are sweeping” throughout southern Ontario, and provincial police are advising people to stay off the roads if possible.

The temperature has dropped throughout the morning, but not yet hit below zero. However, Meredith says he anticipates a temperature of –5C by noon. Wind chill could make it feel like 20 below by late afternoon.

“The conditions out there are going to change quite significantly,” he said. “I think the change to a hard freeze will take a couple more hours.”

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The worst of the weather is expected to hit later today and last through to Saturday morning. “It could get very slippery,” Meredith said. He said high winds on Saturday could make it feel like it’s snowing even after the snow has tapered off into flurries.

The wintry mix will make travel difficult, Environment Canada has warned, and could throw a wrench into plans for the Christmas weekend.

Toronto’s forecast calls for:

  • Five to 15 centimetres of snow by Saturday morning.
  • Strong winds with gusts up to 90 km/h, developing this morning and continuing into tomorrow.
  • Wind chill values in the minus 20s that will develop today and persist into the weekend.

The federal weather agency urges people to avoid “non-essential” travel during the storm.

Widespread power outages are possible.

Hydro One, Ontario’s largest electricity utility, has said teams are prepared to respond to any outages. Toronto Hydro has reminded customers to refresh their emergency kits and said additional crews are ready to support customers through the weekend.

City says it is prepared

The City of Toronto, meanwhile, says it is sending crews and equipment to high-priority areas so that they can respond when required.

Salting will begin as soon as the snow starts to stick to the ground. Plowing will begin when the snow reaches:

  • Two centimetres on sidewalks and separated cycle tracks.
  • 2.5 centimetres on expressways.
  • Five centimetres on major roads, transit routes and streets with hills.
  • Eight centimetres on residential streets.
A snow vehicle can be seen driven down a street as wet snow falls.
A snow vehicle makes its way along Front Street during the wet snowfall on Dec. 15, 2022. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The city also opened three warming centres on Thursday night for people experiencing homelessness:

  • Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr., opened at 7 p.m.
  • Metro Hall, 55 John St., opened at 7 p.m.
  • Mitchell Field Community Centre, 89 Church Ave., opened at 8 p.m.

According to the city, forestry crews are preparing to respond if high winds snap branches or bring trees down. Hazards to public safety or property and roads that needs to be cleared will be the priority. Residents can report fallen branches and trees to 311.

Toronto Water crews are also on standby to repair watermain breaks and offer help if local areas flood.

The city advises residents to avoid travel until conditions improves. If travel is essential on Friday morning, expect low visibility and icy and slippery conditions. Motorists should slow down, follow at a safe distance, watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, and stay alert.

All residents are also urged to keep a safe distance from snow clearing equipment and crews to let them do their work.

WestJet cancels all flights out of Pearson on Friday

Meanwhile, WestJet has cancelled all flights arriving and departing from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Friday.

The cancellations begin at 9 a.m. ET until the end of the day and the airline says a “restart” depends on weather conditions by Saturday.

The service suspension will affect other Ontario and Quebec airports as well, including Ottawa International Airport, London International Airport, the Region of Waterloo International Airport and Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport.

WestJet said the cancellations will affect 140 flights across the five airports. It added that the decision to cancel was made after it consulted airport authorities and NAV Canada. All travellers have been notified, it said.

“The prolonged and extreme weather events that continue to impact multiple regions across Canada are unlike anything we’ve experienced,” said Diederik Pen, WestJet’s chief operations officer, said in a statement.

Tori Gass, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, said that flights at Pearson were still running smoothly early Friday but warned that could change.

The expected high winds and blowing snow could significantly slow down operations. Gas said it is “definitely a possibility” that other airlines could begin mass cancelling flights if conditions deteriorate, and she urged all travellers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

Several boards close schools

Several Greater Toronto Area school boards say schools are closed Friday due to the storm:

  • Toronto District School Board.
  • Toronto Catholic District School Board.
  • Peel District School Board.
  • York Region District School Board.
  • York Catholic District School Board.
  • Durham District School Board.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Halton District School Board are also closed, but those closures were already on their calendars.

The TDSB said child care centres and before and after school programs located in its schools will also be closed and all permits will be cancelled for the day.

All in-person Continuing Education after school and evening courses are also cancelled on Friday. Those courses include International Languages Elementary and African Heritage, Learn4Life Community Programs and Adult ESL.

Dovercourt Junior Public School emerges from the snow on Dec. 1, 2020. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

TTC implements severe weather plan

The TTC, for its part, says it is enacting its severe weather plan to ensure it can keep continue to deliver essential transit sevice.

The transit agency says it is doing the following:

  • Extra staff and vehicles are available if need be.
  • Line 3 Scarborough SRT will be in service Friday morning with parallel bus servicing running. If needed, the line will be closed and replaced with buses.
  • 41 bus stops in areas difficult for buses to navigate in snow and ice will be taken out of service overnight. The full list can be found here.
  • Anti-icing and snow clearing protocols will in place in all bus, streetcar and subway divisions.
  • Subway trains will be stored in tunnels along main lines to avoid issues getting out of the yards.
  • The streetcar overhead network and vehicles have been treated with an anti-icing application. Should any issues arise on 512 St Clair, replacement buses will run.
  • Private contractor tow trucks are ready to help any trapped vehicles and the TTC’s fleet of snow-clearing equipment will be used if needed.
  • The TTC will stay in regular communication with the city to ensure crews are aware of issues on transit routes.

GO Trains to operate on slightly reduced service

Metrolinx has implemented what it calls a “heavy snow plan,” according to spokesperson Matt Llewellyn, only the second time in five years that such a plan has been implemented.

That means GO trains will be running on a slightly reduced schedule during the morning and afternoon peak periods, with an extra 10 or 15 minutes possible between some trains. There will be no express trains on Friday.

Llewellyn said there will be no major cancellations of service. If road conditions deteriorate, there could be some delays and cancellations of GO bus service, however. He said if there is rail option, that might be a better bet for travellers, he added.

“We need to make sure that we can continue to operate that train service safely even during really bad storms like the one that we’re expected to see,” he said.

Riders should check the GO Transit website before heading out the door and give themselves extra time, he advises.

How should you prepare?

Residents are urged to make an emergency plan and prepare a kit with drinking water, food, medicine, first aid supplies and a flashlight, the federal weather agency says.

Environment Canada says residents should continue to check local forecasts.

 

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Driver charged with first-degree murder in Quebec daycare bus attack that killed two

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Quebec daycare bus attack

The driver of a bus that crashed into a suburban Montreal daycare this morning, killing two children, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video late this afternoon from a hospital room and will remain detained

Court documents show he faces a total of nine charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.

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At around 8:30 a.m., a Société de transport de Laval bus crashed into the daycare building, which sits at the end of a driveway a significant distance from the nearest bus route.

Witnesses who rushed to the scene said they had to subdue the driver, who seemed to be delirious and removed his clothing after getting off the bus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian soccer player describes the horror of the earthquake in Turkey

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Canadian soccer player

Canadian soccer player Sam Adekugbe is one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape earthquake-ravaged Antakya in Turkey.

Some of his teammates and staff at his club Hatayspor are still missing.

The 28-year-old from Calgary is now safe in Istanbul with Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson, who plays in the Turkish Super Lig for Besiktas. But in a Zoom call Wednesday sitting next to Hutchinson, a sombre Adekugbe told a harrowing tale of being caught in the quake — and the horror of what he saw in the aftermath.

“Unfathomable. Something you never really expect,” said Adekugbe, who looked shell-shocked.

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Adekugbe was relaxing at home with some teammates after a 1-0 win over visiting Kasimpasa in a Turkish league game Sunday evening. The quake began as he started cleaning up his home when they left.

He started shaking, which initially made him think he was having a panic attack. Then the furniture and TV began to tip over and cups and dishes smashed in the kitchen.

He went outside to find the road split and people yelling amid freezing rain and lighting strikes. After witnessing the damage around his home, he drove the 20 minutes to the team training ground, seeing the devastation along the way.

“It just felt like a movie. You’re seeing collapsed buildings, fires. People yelling, people crying,” he said. “People digging through the rubble. Broken pieces of houses. Just things you never really expect.”

It got worse the closer he got to the centre of the city, which is located 1,100 kilometres southeast of Istanbul in a region bordered by the Mediterranean and Syria.

“Roads split. Bridges broken. Twelve-storey highrises just completely collapsed. Families looking for loved ones. Parents looking for their kids. Kids looking for their parents. It was just something unfathomable. Something you never really expect.”

Adekugbe says people are still missing, including the team’s sporting director, Taner Savut. There is confusion over the whereabouts of Ghana international Christian Atsu, who was at Adekugbe’s home that night.

Reports of Atsu being rescued are now in doubt, said Adekugbe, who joined the search for survivors after getting to the training ground.

“It’s also people who work around the team,” Adekugbe said.

He says one of the team’s equipment men died in the quake. So did the daughters and mother of a woman who works in the team kitchen.

The wife of another equipment man needs urgent medical attention, facing having her arm amputated if she doesn’t get it.

“Of course I’m thankful that a lot of my teammates have been found. But the people that do help the team, the people who work around the club, they still have loved ones that are missing and unaccounted for. Really it starts to hit home when you just see the agony, the desperation on their faces,” he said.

In the light of day, the horror grew.

“You’re looking through rubble trying to find your teammates. You’re trying to yell for them in like darkened spaces of apartments that used to be standing,” Adekugbe said. “It’s just something you never find yourself doing. People coming back with broken bones. People still missing to this day. It’s something you can’t really explain.”

Adekugbe and some of his teammates managed to get out thanks to his coach, Volkan Demirel, who used to play for Fenerbahce, another Turkish club based in Istanbul. He called the Fenerbahce president who organized a plane departing from a city about a 150-minute drive away.

Adekugbe and other Hatayspor players and staff were bused to the waiting plane, which took them to Istanbul.

“We were very lucky,” Adekugbe said.

“I just grabbed what I could … I have three suitcases and my dog.”

Hutchinson was waiting to take him in. Adekugbe had called him in the aftermath of the quake, showing him the damage via FaceTime.

He called his parents when he got to the training ground.

Antakya is renowned for its cuisine, which has many Middle Eastern influences. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has designated Antakya as a “city of gastronomy.”

Adekugbe, who joined Hatayspor in June 2021 from Norway’s Valerenga Fotball, has won 37 caps for Canada and saw action in all three of Canada’s games at the World Cup in Qatar.

Born in London, England, he was three when his family moved to Manchester and 10 when it came to Calgary.

At 16, he moved to Vancouver to join the Whitecaps residency program. He signed a homegrown contract with the MLS team in 2013 but made just 16 appearances for the team over the next four seasons, spending much of the time out on loan.

Adekugbe had loans stints with Brighton in the English Championship and Sweden’s IFK Goteborg before joining Valerenga in January 2018.

While Istanbul escaped quake damage, Hutchinson’s concern for Adekugbe grew when internet connection was lost and a second quake hit.

Both players urged Canadians to donate to relief organizations to help the region and its people.

“There’s a lot of people that are still under the rubble,” Hutchinson said.

“People are just really in bad conditions right now,” he added. “It’s really cold here. Just making it through the day and the night, it’s extremely difficult.”

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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