Hydro solicits help from other power companies

32,000 Manitobans still without power after rare October snow storm


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2019 (1214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Damage to power lines is extensive in rural Manitoba. (Manitoba Hydro photo)

Manitoba Hydro is asking for help from utilities in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota to help restore power to 32,000 customers, including most of the city of Portage, in the wake of a massive storm that dumped up to 60 centimetres of precipitation on much of southern Manitoba.

The province has declared a state of emergency. The declaration is a formal step that enables Manitoba Hydro to “invoke mutual aid clauses with neighbouring utilities for such assistance as may be required to restore services,” the province said.

“Hundreds of workers are trying to restore power for thousands of customers.”
— Premier Brian Pallister

Hydro said it would ask the other power companies for replacement transmission towers, distribution poles and specialized electrical equipment.

“I would like to say that the damage is unprecedented,” said Hydro CEO Jay Grewal. “In some areas we have more lines and poles down than standing.”

“Our crews are out there, working hard, 16 hours a day doing their best to restore the power,” she said.

“We apologize to our customers, we appreciate your patience, and we are working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to get safe reliable power back to all Manitobans.”

Grewal said some roads remain impassable, and that there may be a shortage of material necessary to make repairs.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister says it's tough to say when power will be restored to all hydro customers. The province declared a state of emergency so Hydro could ask neighbouring utilities for resources. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

At the height of the storm, around midnight Friday, about 150,000 Manitobans were without power. The previous record for customers without power in a one-day span was 83,502, which was set during a windstorm in July 2016.

Hydro said it has restored power to 217,000 customers since the storm began.

Grewal said that about 80 per cent of the damage has been assessed by Hydro across the province, and anticipates that the assessment would be completed by Monday. However, she said it would be premature to provide an estimate for when all service would be restored.

And though the mutual aid agreements allow Hydro to source equipment and crews from elsewhere, Grewal said she wasn’t sure how much support would be forthcoming and from where. Those details are still being ironed out.

“Hundreds of workers are trying to restore power for thousands of customers,” said Premier Brian Pallister.

“It’s a difficult situation to monitor, and we don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver here,” Pallister said.

As of 1 p.m., 32,000 customers still had no power, including large swaths of the Portage region, and a number of First Nations, many of which have declared local states of emergency and started the evacuation process.

In Portage la Prairie, more than 13,000 people were affected by the outage, said Mayor Irvine Ferris.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jay Grewal, president and CEO of Manitoba Hydro, updates the media about efforts to restore power to tens of thousands of customers on Sunday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

He said that the region has been hampered by at least four downed towers that transmit power into the community, leaving each of its 11 lift stations without electricity. Due to elevated risk of sewage backup and basement flooding, the city has advised residents to refrain from flushing toilets or taking showers. It has declared a state of emergency.

As of 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Ferris estimated that about 25 per cent of the city’s power had been restored, and that partial power had returned to four of the lift stations.

He said that a temporary support system had helped return power to a portion of the city to the east, an area that includes hospitals and personal care homes. There is no cost estimate associated with the outage, but Ferris expected it to be high.

“In some areas we have more lines and poles down than standing.”
— Hydro CEO Jay Grewal

On Sunday, Pallister said 13 First Nations had no power, and five had partial outages.

Some First Nations were being evacuated because people had been without power for more than 48 hours. There was concern for the elderly and people with health issues, including those on dialysis.The First Nations included Peguis, Lake Manitoba, Little Saskatchewan and Dauphin River.

On Sunday, Manitoba Hydro tweeted: "We're making progress in our restoration efforts in Winnipeg, working house to house. Our main focus today is to completely restore Portage la Prairie and access outlying areas nearby to assess the storm's damage to our system." (Manitoba Hydro photo)

The storm system tracked through Portage la Prairie, the Interlake region and farther north. There were reports of snowdrifts close to two-and-a-half metres high and in some cases crews were dealing with broken transmission towers, which take considerable time to fix.

The province has asked people to call 911 about downed power lines, and to ensure proper ventilation when using alternative combustible heat sources.

By Sunday morning, most of the highways that had been closed because of poor conditions, reopened to traffic, including sections of the Trans-Canada Highway in western Manitoba.

At the peak of the storm, more than 2,700 kilometres of provincial roads were closed. 

On Saturday evening, Hydro tweeted: “In Winnipeg, we’ve fixed a lot of major issues and restored a lot of customers, but we’re not tackling the smaller repairs that may only bring a few customers back on at a time. This type of work takes as much time and resources as fixing the problems with big customer counts, so our progress getting the remaining customers restored will appear slower.”

On Sunday, Manitoba Hydro said restoring power to Portage la Prairie would be its focus. (Manitoba Hydro photo)

The October storm was unprecedented.

“This was a two-day wonder. There’s never been a total October snowfall, for a whole month, all 31 days, that’s more than what you just saw,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

“So when you get a one-day or a two-day event that eclipses the whole monthly record, that shows you how significant it is. There’s never been an earlier huge snowfall that even comes close.”

“It’s been a bit of a prairie whitewasher, it’s a surprise, it’s a sneak attack,” Phillips said.

People walk down Westminster Avenue among many downed trees on Saturday. (Mikaela MacKenzie/ Winnipeg Free Press)
Courtesy Manitoba Hydro Manitoba Hydro crews are out in full force to try to restore power. The situation in rural Manitoba is especially difficult.

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 12:13 PM CDT: Adds warming shelter details

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 12:59 PM CDT: Adds info about First nations warming shelter

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 1:13 PM CDT: Adds First nations evacuations

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 1:59 PM CDT: Adds comments from Sunday news conference

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 2:54 PM CDT: Adds factbox

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 4:01 PM CDT: Adds photos from news conference

Updated on Sunday, October 13, 2019 8:13 PM CDT: Corrects error in factbox

Updated on Monday, October 14, 2019 1:07 PM CDT: corrects measurement

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