Manitoba Hydro crews continue to work around the clock to restore power to roughly 8,000 homes and businesses that have gone without electricity and heat since a massive snow storm slammed southern Manitoba last week.
While the utility hopes to restore electricity to those customers by early next week, damage to the power grid in isolated and rural locations is challenging Hydro crews.
"With all the rain we got in September, the fields were already saturated and that wet snow just added to it. There are ditches all full of water. We’ve never had to deal with anything as significant as what we’re seeing right now," Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said.
"A lot of the damage out there is devastating. For us, it’s the first time we’ve really had to rebuild such a big part of our system as quickly as possible."
Utility poles have snapped and fallen and transmission systems were no match for the severe weather. In order to get to isolated areas where work needs to be done, Hydro is using tracked vehicles, which can "pretty much go anywhere," Owen said.
Employees have been instructed to expect long, gruelling work schedules as all hands on deck are needed for the repair efforts. Four temporary camps have been set up so workers can rest, recover and refuel in between their 16-hour shifts.
Hydro crews are also being helped by workers from neighbouring utilities, including Minnesota Power and Sask Power.
Roughly 8,000 Manitoba customers remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon. That number fell dramatically from its peak at about 150,000.
"When Minnesota Power showed up with its tracked vehicles, it was a huge boost to our field staff, who are putting in some pretty long hours in some pretty rotten conditions," Owen said.
"We’ve got numerous crews out right now. Our main focus at the moment is getting that transmission system back up and running in the Portage area."
Portage la Prairie was hit particularly hard by the storm, with the region’s transmission system being knocked out. As of Wednesday, 1,600 customers in the area remained without power.
At least 6,000 people were ordered to leave their First Nations because of a lack of power. Many of them have been put up at hotels in the province, the Red Cross said.
In Winnipeg, only 28 customers remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon, including Marilyn and Colin Ringland. They lost power at their River Heights home around 2 p.m. Sunday.
When the storm was at its peak, falling branches landed on their power line. While the line wasn’t knocked out completely, Manitoba Hydro crews told them the situation was dangerous and their power would have to be shut off.
The family had to hire an electrician to repair the line, before getting an inspection done by the City of Winnipeg. On Wednesday afternoon, the couple was sitting in their vehicle, which was parked in their driveway, with the engine running for heat, waiting for Hydro crews to return.
"We had to go to a hotel for a couple of nights. We were fortunate that we were able to go to a hotel. It could have been much worse. Last night, we stuck it out, because we didn’t know when the (city) inspector was coming by," said Marilyn Ringland.
"It wasn’t too bad. We had candles and listened to the (Winnipeg) Jets (game) on the radio. When we haven’t been at home, we’ve been driving around, charging our phones, sitting at the mall and walking around, just trying to stay warm."
City workers continue to remove fallen trees and branches throughout Winnipeg. Municipal workers are being helped by crews from other cities, including Regina and Saskatoon.
On Saturday evening, Premier Brian Pallister announced that he would call a provincial state of emergency. In addition, eleven municipalities, including Winnipeg, also issued local states of emergency.
As much as 100 millimetres of precipitation—most of it snow—fell on much of southern Manitoba. Officials continue to monitor water levels in lakes, streams and rivers in case of flooding. There have been reports of localized overland flooding in low-lying areas.
Temperatures are expected to rise throughout the rest of the week, causing the snow to melt, and helping the cleanup efforts.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at 5:50 PM CDT: Updates photo