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Troops help in Canada storm clear-up

In Canada's largest-ever peacetime army operation, thousands of soldiers were yesterday deployed throughout the area battered by last week's ice storm.

"They have become peace agents," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said on Tuesday, during a tour of the so-called Blackout Triangle area south of Montreal, where power to 1 million people is not expected to be restored for one to two more weeks.

About 600,000 homes across southern Quebec and 65,000 in eastern Ontario remained without power yesterday, nine days after the most destructive ice storm ever in Canada began pounding the region.

The provincial power company, Hydro-Quebec, warned customers throughout the stricken region that it planned rotating blackouts of up to six hours in areas with power in order to ease pressure on its system.

"We are in a crisis situation," said Elias Ghannoum, a Hydro-Quebec transmission- line specialist. "If everybody were to take all the power they needed, we would overload the lines and cut off everybody."

Though power has been restored to most households in Montreal, more than 400,000 homes in about 100 towns to the south and east are expected to remain without electricity for one to two weeks while the transmission lines are repaired.

With night-time temperatures forecast to fall to -18C, officials have been pleading with families in the Blackout Triangle to find warmer quarters, either in community shelters or at private homes in areas with power. Police and soldiers were instructed to check on residents and urge those in danger to evacuate.

More than 12,000 soldiers have been deployed to help with tree-clearing and relief operations in the stricken areas. Their duties include providing security in evacuated neighbourhoods.

The storm and subsequent power cuts have been blamed for 16 deaths in eastern Ontario and southern Quebec.

- AP, Montreal