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Manitoba Hydro workers find it slow going in T.O.

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Manitoba Hydro's 42 workers

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Manitoba Hydro's 42 workers "didn't think twice" about helping Ontario get the power back on.

The 42 Manitoba Hydro workers who gave up Christmas to repair downed power lines in Toronto may not make it home until the new year.

"This is what we do. We're quite experienced in Manitoba with ice storms," said Warren Helgason, a construction supervisor at Manitoba Hydro working to restore power to Toronto's ice-storm victims.

Helgason said the volunteers "didn't think twice" about heading to Ontario.

Toronto Hydro has agreed to help compensate Manitoba workers and cover related costs with Manitoba Hydro, but it's small comfort as their families celebrate Christmas without them.

"You never want to do this," said Helgason. "But these guys are specialists and they're good and they're really very proud of their skill."

The crew flew out Tuesday to help restore power to the 115,000 customers who were still without light or heat after an ice storm struck Eastern Canada last weekend.

By Wednesday, about 70,000 customers were still without power in Toronto as Manitoba crews continued to work.

Helgason was unable to say when the workers would return home. He said the length of their stay depends on the weather, the extent of the damage and how quickly the crew is able to work within Ontario's different maintenance procedure. "It's turned out to be a very slow process due to the operational protocols required by Ontario law," he said, adding repair jobs depend on a single control centre.

Helgason said Manitoba's system is simpler and easier to use.

"It's just as safe, but way less time-consuming."

Bruce Riehl, distribution construction manager at Manitoba Hydro, said the workers are likely to remain in Ontario into the new year.

"Right now, we're shooting for one to two weeks, so around Jan. 6," he said.

The Manitoba workers joined crews from Ottawa, Sault St. Marie, and Windsor that have also offered help.

Toronto Hydro spokeswoman Andrea Corkum said the focus is on lines that affect large blocks of customers first.

"Then we'll do the one-offs, where putting up a cable will give power to one or two houses," said Corkum, who expects power to be restored to customers by the weekend.

"We are going to get the most people up as quickly as possible."

The last time Manitoba Hydro workers went east was in 1998 when Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick were coated in ice after three major ice storms.

While the damage in Toronto and the surrounding area is great, Helgason said last weekend's storm doesn't compare to the one that hit Eastern Canada 15 years ago.

"Not even close."

jordan.power@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2013 A6

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