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Broken Presto card readers cause long lineups at Finch Station

CityNews | posted Friday, Jan 5th, 2018

It was a frustrating Thursday morning at Finch Station for TTC riders when a number of Presto card readers malfunctioned, causing major backups at the entrance.

Commuter Lauren Jacobs tweeted a picture of a long lineup at the station’s entrance around 7:30 a.m.

“There were 30 people in line in front of us, and the line kept growing,” Jacobs told CityNews.

“I thought it was people getting Metropasses, but we noticed all the Presto readers, except for one, were out.”

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins couldn’t confirm how long the issue lasted, but said staff were sent check the card readers right away.

“They are little computers, so sometimes you just have to reboot them, and it’s fairly quickly done,” she said. “One needed to be replaced, and that’s been replaced.”

In an email, TTC spokesman Stuart Green apologized for the delays and said the lineups were compounded by people waiting to buy a January Metropass, since it’s the last day to do so.

“We normally would have had a station supervisor on property to direct customers to one of the crash gates,” Green said. “This morning that supervisor was called away to another station to attend to a flooding issue.”

While two extra collector boxes were staffed at the time, those “crash gates” only accept cash, tokens and Metropasses.

Some commuters, including Jacobs, question the TTC’s push to get riders using Presto cards when the system is still in transition.

“It makes me want to get a Metropass or just go back to using tokens because I can’t use my Presto card all the time, or I have to wait in long lineup,” she said.

But Aikins insisted the system is ready and breakdowns are becoming less frequent.

“The reliability rate across the Presto system has improved immensely,” she said. “It’s in the high 90s now, which is getting pretty close to exactly where we want it to be.”

‘Very intense’ winter storm shuts schools, offices in Atlantic Canada

Alison Auld and Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Jan 5th, 2018


A massive and powerful storm pummelled Atlantic Canada on Thursday, shutting down everything from schools to bridges as wind, rain and snow thrashed the region.

“This is a very large, very intense storm,” said Darren Borgel, a meteorologist with Environment Canada. “This one will definitely be memorable for its extreme winds, especially in Nova Scotia.”

Social media images showed one Halifax house with its roof gone, and another building that had partially collapsed.

At high tide the storm surge flooded parts of Halifax’s famed waterfront boardwalk, moving a Canada 150 sign and lapping at an ice cream outlet. Water also poured into an excavation site of a massive hotel/office complex.

And 20 minutes before high tide, the surging ocean had swallowed a dock at Halifax’s Dingle Park and flooded the short causeway connecting the nearby Armdale Yacht Club to the mainland.

While parts of Nova Scotia were whipped by wind and rain amid temperatures well above freezing, New Brunswickers faced heavy snow that made it impossible to see across the street.

“If you are in your home and don’t need to travel, don’t travel,” said Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, who called it a “serious storm.”

Environment Canada said high waves combined with storm surges could cause damage along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and in Prince Edward Island later in the evening, and that flooding was also likely in those areas.

The weather agency said high waves would persist overnight and may cause further flooding and pounding surf near high tide on Friday morning for southwest facing coastlines.

Borgel noted high tide was expected to coincide with the greatest surge in the evening along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, just as winds were forecast to pick up again.

“I expect there’s going to be some serious damage when things come to light on Friday morning,” he said.

The agency warned that people should not attempt to travel across flooded roads because even shallow, fast-moving water can sweep a vehicle away.

Environment Canada had issued warnings for everything from wind and rain to blizzards and storm surges along much of the Atlantic coast.

“There’s a varied mix of weather conditions depending on where you are in the Maritimes — the whole spectrum of weather,” said Borgel.

The federal agency had issued a range of winter storm warnings and watches for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, saying the low-pressure system would bring fierce winds that could gust up to about 140 km/h in parts of Nova Scotia and snowfall amounts of up to 40 centimetres in New Brunswick.

Nova Scotia was expected to see up to 50 millimetres of rain, possibly causing localized flooding.

By Thursday evening, many lights were out across Nova Scotia. About 94,000 utility customers were without power as of about 1:30 a.m., Friday, many along the Atlantic coast.

In downtown Halifax, the wind started to howl early in the afternoon, sending sheets of rain sideways, stinging pedestrians as they headed home early from work.

Sandra Simons, who lives across the harbour in Dartmouth, was running to catch the last ferry of the day. The service was cancelled early at 2:30 p.m. as the harbour was churned into a roiling mass of whitecaps and heavy swell.

“It’s lovely,” said Simons. “I like the wind, I like the waves, but it’s hard walking. Still, the wind is really bad here. The ferry behind us is the last one going across, so I’m just running for that.”

Breanne Barry was also on her way home to Dartmouth, but she missed the last ferry.

“It’s crazy — the wind is getting really bad,” said Barry, as she grabbed the fur-lined collar of her parka as it was whipped by the wind. “I’m just happy that we haven’t got any snow. I just want everyone to stay safe and stay off the road.”

Halifax also pulled its buses off the road at 4 p.m., closed the city’s Public Gardens and shut one of two harbour bridges because of the wind.

Later in the evening at the Herring Cove lookoff near the mouth of the Halifax harbour, a row of spectators gathered in the dark, the headlights of their cars illuminating massive waves breaking against the rocks.

The severe weather prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge Atlantic Canadians to be vigilant.

“To everyone in Atlantic Canada — stay safe, stay indoors, and stay updated on the latest,” he said on Twitter, linking to the Environment Canada website.

Virtually all of New Brunswick was under either winter storm, rainfall or wind warnings and the central and northern parts of the province were expected to see roughly 40 centimetres of snow, along with wind gusts of up to 90 km/h in some areas.

Environment Canada said early Friday that while heavy snow and blowing snow was expected to continues for the northern half of New Brunswick, the snow has changed to a mix of freezing rain and ice pellets for central areas overnight.

Snow was expected to end by late morning over southern New Brunswick but persist into the afternoon for northern areas.

MacCallum said NB Power added extra crews and pre-positioned them in areas of the province where outages were likely to occur. The utility was reporting about 10,400 outages as of about 1:30 a.m. Friday.

MacCallum also warned about the dangers of carbon monoxide, and said people should have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

“If not, be aware of the threat and avoid doing things like cooking over open flames, using generators near the house or in a garage. These things produce carbon monoxide gas and it will kill people,” he said.

Two people died and others were hospitalized during an ice storm that hit the province in January of last year.

MacCallum said EMO is working with the Red Cross to identify warming centres and shelters in the event people are left without power for an extended time.

P.E.I. was expected to be hit by fierce winds and up to 25 centimetres of snow before it changes to rain and ice pellets in the evening. Maritime Electric said early Friday that power was out in about 20 communities.

The Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and P.E.I. was closed to all traffic “for user safety” Thursday night “until the current weather situation changes,” but later reopened to cars.

Nova Scotia Power said it had more than 1,000 people at the ready in what is its biggest-ever pre-storm mobilization of personnel and resources.

More than 50 departures and arrivals were cancelled at Halifax Stanfield International Airport early Thursday. Marine Atlantic also cancelled sailings between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, while Bay Ferries shelved its crossings between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

School boards in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. didn’t wait for the storm to arrive, with most schools and some universities closing well before the weather set in. Many government offices, schools and businesses also shut down for the day.

The Halifax Regional School Board warned Thursday evening that almost half of its 134 schools were without power, and further cancellations were possible on Friday.

Environment Canada said the storm — which was being dubbed a “bomb cyclone” — was expected to continue its northerly trek, with snow and strong winds in expected parts of Newfoundland and Labrador Thursday evening and into Friday.

In the U.S., the storm dumped as much as 45 centimetres of snow from the Carolinas to Maine and unleashing hurricane-force winds.

Forecasters expected the system to be followed immediately by a blast of face-stringing cold air that could break records in more than two dozen cities, with wind chills falling to -40 in some places this weekend.

Three people were killed in North Carolina after their vehicles ran off snow-covered roads, authorities said.

With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton, Michael MacDonald in Halifax, and The Associated Press.

Amid cloud of criticism, city opens two more warming centres

CityNews | posted Friday, Jan 5th, 2018


Amid a cloud of criticism, the city continued to take steps to tackle what some have called a homeless crisis.

With Toronto under yet another extreme cold weather warning as temperatures plunged to -30 with the wind chill, the city opened two more warming centres on Thursday night – one at Metro Hall and the other at the Regent Park Community Centre.

The centres will remain open for the duration of the extreme cold weather alert.

As well, additional staff are being brought in to help get the city’s homeless to the warming centres.

“We continue to explore all options and opportunities to protect our city’s most vulnerable residents,” said Tory. “These warming centres provide accessible immediate relief during Extreme Cold Weather events and are in addition to the City’s other winter respite services.”

Tory says the city is in talks with both Ottawa and the provincial government to determine whether the armoury would be suitable as a 24-hour winter respite centre that could remain open until April 15.

He says discussions are moving along quickly and he expects an answer very soon.

The proposal to open the Moss Park Armoury, which was rejected by city council last month, gained fresh life as temperatures plummeted and led to Tory’s promise to reach out to higher orders of government to discuss the idea.

“I want to say those discussions have been going very well, have been very constructive,” he said Thursday. “. . .. I expect that we will have a resolution finalized soon.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the government is working closely with Toronto and has reached out to other municipalities due to be impacted by the frigid weather.

She said protecting homeless residents from the harsh conditions is a high priority.

“It’s going to be very cold tonight,” she said. “Our immediate concern is that we work as quickly as possible with the city to make sure that there is space for anybody who needs a warm place tonight.”

The city’s ability to address the needs of the homeless is now the subject of two inquiries following confusion over the availability of spaces during the prolonged cold snap.

Advocates have said in recent days that they tried to find spots for homeless people only to be told that they were completely full. The city has said there are still beds available and blamed miscommunication for the confusion.

Calling the miscommunication “indefensible,” Tory previously said he welcomes the inquiries recently announced by the city’s general manager of shelter support as well as Toronto’s ombudsman.

The latest data from the city indicates Toronto’s shelters operated at between 94 and 95 per cent capacity on the weekend with 5,460 people staying in the shelter system on Jan. 1. Another 445 people used winter respite centres.

With files from The Canadian Press

Brrr … bundle up: Extreme cold envelops the GTA

The Canadian Press | posted Friday, Jan 5th, 2018


You probably don’t need us to tell you this — it is bitterly cold out there.

Every corner of Ontario, including the GTA, remains under an extreme cold warning on Friday, with the wind chill producing lows in the -35 to -40 range.

Environment Canada calls for a “prolonged period of very cold wind chills” with northwest winds up to 50 km/h.

680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor says the high in the GTA will be -16 C but it will feel like -36 C with the wind. With the bitter cold temperatures, exposed skin can freeze in 10 to 30 minutes.

Friday was also the coldest Jan. 5 on record. At 4 a.m., the temperature at Pearson International Airport dropped to -21.9 C, beating -20.6 C set in 1959.

The weather agency says temperatures and windchills will be slightly lower by nightfall, but the extreme cold will continue until Saturday.

There will be some reprieve from the cold on Sunday with some snow in the forecast.

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto opened two more warming centres on Thursday night — one at Metro Hall and the other at the Regent Park Community Centre. The centres, which aim to provide relief for the homeless, will remain open for the duration of the extreme cold weather alert.

Federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale says federal officials are trying to find the most effective solution as quickly as possible, to help ease the strain on Toronto’s homeless shelter system as temperatures plunge.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has requested that a federal armoury be opened up as a shelter for the homeless.

Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government is working closely with Toronto and has reached out to other municipalities that could also be affected by the frigid weather.


What consumers should know about the romaine lettuce-linked E. coli outbreak

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Jan 4th, 2018

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2007 file photo, a worker harvests romaine lettuce in Salinas, Calif. Leafy green vegetables were the leading source of food poisoning over an 11-year period, federal health officials say, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. However, the most food-related deaths were from contaminated chicken and other poultry. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Since mid-November, dozens of people have become ill and two people have died in Canada and the U.S. due to infection with E. coli 0157:H7, which has been linked in this country to contaminated romaine lettuce. Here is a primer on E. coli and what consumers can do to avoid becoming sick:

What is E. coli?
Escherichia coli bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals and are typically harmless. But infection with the O157:H7 strain, which produces a shiga toxin, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Healthy adults usually recover within a week, but young children and older adults have an increased risk of developing a life-threatening type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

How does contamination occur?
E. coli can be shed in the feces of cattle, poultry and other animals, polluting water used to irrigate crops and the soil where fruits and vegetables are grown. Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, can become contaminated during and after harvest from handling, storing and being transported. An individual infected with E. coli also can transmit it to other people.

“This strain of E. coli causes more outbreaks than all other strains combined, so it’s the big problem,” said Herb Schellhorn, a microbiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, who specializes in the study of E. coli and other water- and food-borne pathogens.

What’s the source of this outbreak?
A Canadian Food Inspection Agency-led investigation has determined that romaine lettuce is at the heart of the E. coli outbreak in five eastern provinces, but the source of the produce has not yet been identified. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has concluded the E. coli involved in 17 cases in 13 states has a closely related genetic signature as the strain behind Canada’s 41 cases, but has not confirmed the food source. One person in Canada and one in the U.S. have died.

“This time of year, most of our lettuce will come from southern places … so if it’s affecting both countries, it may be from California or Mexico or other countries that produce romaine lettuce,” said Schellhorn. “But it also can be contaminated during the processing by individuals who are infected or if there was fecal contamination introduced at some point in the distribution (process).”

He said the longer it takes to pin down the source of adulteration, the more difficult it will become over time, given that romaine is a perishable item.

“It’s not like it’s frozen and we can go into meat lockers and test food materials for contamination. Depending on how it was contaminated, if it was in one large place and it’s the water that was contaminated, that could have implications for other food materials that might have been exposed.”

While that “doesn’t appear to be the case” with this outbreak, Schellhorn said E. coli. 0157:H7 is highly infectious and exposure to only a very small amount can cause disease.

What can consumers do?
The Public Health Agency of Canada says on its website that thoroughly washing potentially contaminated romaine lettuce — or any other fresh produce — in water can remove the bacteria.

But Schellhorn suggests it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Not only does he advise not purchasing romaine lettuce currently on grocery store shelves, he suggests consumers toss out any they have in the fridge.

“It’s not worth taking a chance … Lettuce isn’t that expensive, it has a short shelf life anyway,” he said.

“I think I would just throw it out.”

Woman’s death in Etobicoke now a homicide

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 4th, 2018

Police tape off a house where a suspicious death is being investigated, Jan. 3, 2018. CITYNEWS

The death of a woman in her 70s in Etobicoke that police had deemed suspicious is now being investigated as a homicide.

Paramedics were called to the area of Farley Crescent and Callowhill Drive just before 11 p.m. Wednesday for what was initially termed a medical complaint.

When officers arrived on scene they reported the woman was suffering from severe trauma and was without vital signs. She was eventually pronounced dead by paramedics.

A man in his 80s was taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Police said the man has been placed in custody and will be charged with murder.

Home flooded as residents wait 4 days for city to fix burst pipe

CityNews | posted Thursday, Jan 4th, 2018


City of Toronto workers finally arrived to fix a burst pipe on Wednesday evening, four days after it ruptured in a west-end neighbourhood, flooding a family home and threatening another.

On New Year’s Day, when Daniel and Robyn Eliesen returned home after a winter vacation, they found a flood on their front lawn on Lauder Avenue, near Dufferin and St. Clair. A city pipe had burst underneath the grass and water was flooding the area and street.

A neighbour had already called the city about the problem two days before. But as far as the Eliesens could see, all the city had done was to place a pylon at the site.

The Eliesens also called the city, but to no avail.

“I think I’ve called like 10 to 12 times that 311 number,” Robyn Eliesen said. “At some point it’s just like, ‘What are you going to do?’

“It’s incredibly frustrating because the water keeps coming in and there’s nothing you can do to make it stop. Three days — more than three days — this has been ongoing. Is that acceptable service in your opinion? Absolutely not. At some point there should be some emergency action taken.”

Eventually their sump pump gave out, and on Tuesday night their basement began to flood.

They called Toronto Fire, which on Wednesday removed the basement toilet so the water would have another avenue to drain.

The Eliesens also brought in a plumber, who told CityNews the couple had prepared the home correctly, with a sump pump, but it simply couldn’t keep up with the amount of water pouring into the house.

He estimated the damage to be as much as $15,000.



Airlines brace for east coast winter storm with delays, cancellations

The Associated Press | posted Thursday, Jan 4th, 2018

A man walks down the middle of Agricola Street in Halifax as a major winter storm blasts the Maritimes on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

With severe winter weather scheduled to slam into the east coast on Thursday and Friday, some airlines are warning of delayed or cancelled flights.

A winter storm warning has been issued for much of Atlantic Canada and parts of the eastern United States with snow expected to start falling Thursday morning.

Pearson International Airport is asking anyone flying to the east coast to check your flight status with your airline before arriving at the airport.

Air Canada, Porter Airlines and WestJet have all issued travel advisories for Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick as well as U.S. destinations Boston and New York.

Air Canada and Porter says it is waiving change fees for anyone looking to rebook their flights while WestJet has implemented flexible change and cancel rules.

Delta Airlines has proactively cancelled more than 400 flights as of Wednesday evening and into Thursday, primarily at JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York and Boston’s Logan International.

This same weather system forced Delta to suspend operations at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia due to snow and ice accumulation on runways and taxiways.

The system hitting the east coast has been described as a “bomb cyclone.” But as fearsome as the storm is with high winds and some snow, it may not be quite as explosive as the term sounds.

“Bombogenesis is the technical term. Bomb cyclone is a shortened version of it, better for social media,” said Weather.US meteorologist Ryan Maue, who helped popularize the term polar vortex in 2014.

“The actual impacts aren’t going to be a bomb at all,” Maue said. “There’s nothing exploding or detonating.”

Bomb cyclones draw air from polar regions after they leave. In this case, it means extra cold Arctic air because of where the polar vortex is

Storm intensity is measured by central pressure – the lower the pressure, the stronger. A storm is considered a “bomb” when the pressure drops rapidly – at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

This storm looks like it will intensify at twice that rate, said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

While the worst of this storm will stay out at sea, high winds with gusts approaching 100 km/h and the bitter cold that follows will be the real culprits.

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