Gale-force winds and pounding rain have lashed Britain and France, killing at least five people.
SOME 500,000 people in the US and Canada, and 50,000 in Britain spent Christmas Day in the dark following recent wild storms.
Repair crews worked to restore power to nearly half a million customers in parts of northeastern United States and eastern Canada after a weekend ice storm.
At least 24 deaths have been linked to the storm, some from carbon monoxide poisoning as people struggle to stay warm.
In Canada, five people were reported dead from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning. Police said two people in Ontario died after using a gas generator to heat their blacked-out home northeast of Toronto.
Police in Quebec said carbon monoxide poisoning was believed to be the cause of three deaths in a chalet on the province’s North Shore. Earlier, five people were killed in eastern Canada in highway crashes blamed on severe weather conditions.
In the US, the nationwide death toll from the storm reached at least 14 on Tuesday, when a 50-year-old man in Maine was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator. It was the second reported death attributed to fumes from a generator during the storm.
As temperatures plunged into the low single digits (below minus 15 Celsius) in Toronto – where about 70,000 customers remained without power Christmas morning – authorities reported a dramatic jump in calls for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, responding to 110 calls in a 24-hour period. Officials said they typically see 20 such calls a day.
“I understand they want to keep warm, but you cannot do this. This is deadly,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said on Tuesday as the city issued an extreme cold weather alert.
Fire officials warned residents not to use any appliance that burns inside a home, and even cautioned against using a lot of candles.
Elsewhere in Ontario, about 44,000 customers were still without power early Wednesday. In Quebec, some 28,000 customers remained without power. In New Brunswick, just under 29,000 customers were still in the dark.
Canadian utility officials warned that some customers could be without power until Saturday.
The number of customers in Maine without power had dropped to 70,000 by Wednesday morning. In Michigan, about 129,000 remained without power.
Meanwhile in the UK, hundreds of people had to be evacuated due to flooding.
London Gatwick Airport was also struggling with power outages in parts of its North Terminal, causing delays to departing flights.
High winds and heavy rain battered parts of Europe on Monday and Tuesday, with some areas still reeling from the aftermath.
The Energy Networks Association said around 50,000 homes remained without electricity. They are largely in the east and southeast of England.
“It’s likely that some people will still be off on Boxing Day (Thursday),” said spokesman Tim Field.
Power company UK Power Networks offered to pay for Christmas dinners in local pubs or restaurants for people whose supplies remain cut off.
Around 90 people were evacuated from the early hours of Wednesday morning from their homes by the River Stour near Bournemouth on the south coast due to floods, emergency services said.
In southeast England, evacuations took place in the London commuter belt towns of Dorking, Leatherhead, Guildford, Godalming and Tonbridge, emergency services added.
Meanwhile the coastguard rescued people from a caravan park in Yalding, after chest-deep river waters cut the site off.
All together, hundreds of people were evacuated, emergency services added.
London Gatwick, Britain’s second-busiest airport, was running a full schedule following cancellations in the run-up to Christmas.
However, “there are still power outages in parts of our North Terminal,” it said, due to the weather.
“These are causing delays to departing flights and our engineers are on site rectifying this.”
All departures were operating from the South Terminal, except for British Airways flights.
Several ski stations in France’s Hautes-Pyrenees and Pyrenees-Atlantique regions closed their ski areas due to strong winds as a precautionary measure.
The weather was also putting a damper on some holiday activities ahead of Christmas on Wednesday as well as sales.
Local French officials were advising the organisers of events such as Christmas markets and fairgrounds to reinforce their temporary installations.
The park of the Chateau de Versailles, the palace built by the “Sun King” Louis XIV and one of France’s top tourist destinations, was closed Tuesday due to “strong winds”, management said in a Twitter message.
Tuesday 24 December, because of strong winds the gardens, the park and Trianon Palaces are closed all day.
— ChateaudeVersailles (@CVersailles) December 24, 2013
“Given retailers’ hopes that the last couple of days before Christmas would see a final strong surge in sales, the awful weather could not have come at a worse time,” said Howard Archer, chief UK European economist at consultants IHS Global Insight.
“The very wet and windy weather must have had a significant dampening impact on shopper footfall,” he added.