Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Power mostly back after storm

Crews scramble following blackouts

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Most customers left in the dark after a freak winter storm Thursday were expected to be back on the grid by today, a Manitoba Hydro spokesman said.

"We caught a good break with the weather today and the boys have been working extremely hard," said spokesman Scott Powell.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 people were left in the dark in southeastern Manitoba due to Thursday's autumn snowstorm, mostly in the Piney, Whiteshell, Falcon Lake and West Hawk Lake areas.

By late Saturday, all but 1,500 were back online.

Hydro brought in 150 extra workers to replace exhausted crews who had to slog through heavy snow in wooded areas to do the repairs.

"We've got all hands on deck and they're still out there. It's been a really busy day and the boys have been making really good progress," Powell said.

"We're down to 1,500 customers still out, mostly in the areas most severely affected by the storm, in Piney, and Falcon and West Hawk lakes," Powell said. "Those are the two areas that got 30 centimetres of snow."

Initially, those customers were told they might not have power until after the Thanksgiving weekend.

But by late Saturday, the projections looked a lot brighter.

Some 4,500 customers were hooked up to the grid by late Saturday afternoon. More were expected to come online during the evening and overnight, Powell said.

"We're hoping to get most of them back up by the end of today," the Hydro spokesman said Saturday evening.

Crews faced a massive job when the ice, heavy snow and strong winds broke at least 120 hydro poles in the Piney area, south of Steinbach.

The town of Beausejour lifted a state of emergency Friday evening after 3,100 people in the town and another 2,000 in the surrounding area had been left in the dark since Thursday afternoon.

The town of Vita, also left in a blackout Thursday, remained under a state of emergency Saturday, said Jim Swidersky, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Stuartburn.

"We haven't had any reports of injuries or fatalities and that's the important thing," Swidersky said.

All day, work by Hydro crews had been steadily paying off, the reeve said.

"They're getting closer and closer. And they're lighting up more and more homes"

Meanwhile, phone service has been restored to most customers in the RM of Stuartburn, he said.

The reeve said he estimated about 80 to 85 per cent of the RM was back on the hydro grid by suppertime Saturday.

The homes that were still in the dark were mainly in more isolated outlying areas.

"It's hard on the people without power. The main lines have been put back up but it's the feeder lines that aren't up. People can call Hydro and tell them they don't have power and that way, maybe Hydro will be able to get to them quicker," Swidersky said.

Meanwhile, the state of Hydro's maintenance started to become a matter of debate the longer the blackouts lasted.

Complaints surfaced Saturday with some Vita-area residents who called the Free Press to say it wasn't just the weather, but problems with weakened hydro poles that made them vulnerable to the storm.

"We make sure any problem poles are repaired or replaced," Powell said, adding maintenance programs are rigidly followed.

The severity of the blackout was due to Mother Nature, Powell said. The storm snapped hydro poles, downed live power lines and more.

In a grim reminder of the horrific 1998 ice storm in Quebec, the storm flattened more than one transmission tower, twisting steel girders like they were tin.

"I've not seen a storm like that," Powell said.

"We've had reports of three inches of ice on the lines and you add high winds and that much weight? That alone can take a pole down. The weather's been the big factor here."

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2012 0

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