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City of Toronto investigating after downtown core power outage

Emergency workers monitor the site of a collision between a barge carrying a crane and power lines are photographed in Toronto, on Thursday, August 11, 2022. The City of Toronto says it's investigating a power outage that left a large swath of the city's downtown core including office buildings, a major mall and a university campus without electricity on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

TORONTO — The City of Toronto is investigating after a barge carrying a crane came into contact with power lines and left a large swath of the downtown core without electricity for several hours on Thursday.

In a statement, the municipality said it was made aware the outage "may have been caused by a subcontractor to the main contractor for the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant outfall project," and has requested a full report from the main contractor, on top of launching its own investigation.

The general manager of Toronto Water said two subcontractors were trying to move an upright crane in the Port of Toronto waterways to prepare for future construction in the outfall project when the crane hit the wires. Nobody was seriously hurt, Lou Di Gironimo said.

The city will work with the main contractor to investigate what procedures were in place as the work was carried out and whether health and safety measures were implemented and followed, Di Gironimo said. They will also come up with recommendations to help prevent such incidents moving forward, he said.

"We want to ensure that we have all safety precautions in place in the future . . . that way we can carry on with safe construction," he added. 

The investigation is expected to wrap up in the coming days.

The main contractor for the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant outfall project, Southland-Astaldi Joint Venture, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Hydro One said the contact between the crane and the power lines caused "further downstream damage to equipment" at a power station, cutting off power for a large swath of Toronto's downtown core including office buildings, a major mall and a university campus. 

The utility said there is an established safety protocol to stay a minimum of three metres away from power lines. However, a spokesperson said that limit was not respected. 

"We're always talking about staying away from downed power lines in a storm situation. However, the same rules apply when you're talking about lines that are in the air and suspended," said Tiziana Baccega Rosa. 

"This barge did not stay within those safe limits, clearly those were breached, which resulted in this incident."

Baccega Rosa said Hydro One will continue to stress the importance of respecting the safety protocol to prevent service issues. 

She said the utility needs to repair the damage caused by the crane, which will take at least a few days.

The power outage, which hit around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, affected roughly 10,000 customers. Power was fully restored around 8 p.m., said Kaitlyn Woods, a Toronto Hydro spokesperson. 

A stretch of the city that included the financial district, Toronto Metropolitan University and the bustling Eaton Centre mall was affected.

"We know it was a really difficult time for people to be without power for so long, so we really appreciate everybody's patience," Woods said. 

Toronto Fire District Chief Stephan Powell called the outage "hectic," noting the fire service received a lot of calls when the electricity first cut out. But overall, he said people seemed to handle the situation well even as the lack of functioning traffic lights slowed down car travel through downtown Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022. 


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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