Crews are on track to have power fully restored to downtown Calgary by Thursday after an underground fire plunged multiple blocks into darkness on the weekend, officials say.
Saturday’s fire did extensive damage to the electrical infrastructure, which cut power to about 5,000 people and 2,100 businesses and left about 3.5 kilometres of cable in need of being replaced.
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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said investigators have found no evidence so far of tampering in the underground vault where the fire started.
"I am very interested in knowing whether we have discovered a weak link in the system that needs to be fortified with these redundancies even more," he said. "But I should highlight that, you know, this particular manhole had been serving without any problems for many decades and in fact had been upgraded within the last decade."
'We’ve learned something here. And if we can help others do a better job when, God forbid, emergencies and crises hit them, then we should be sharing that.' — Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi
City-owned utility company Enmax says there are hundreds of underground vaults downtown, and the investigation into what triggered the fire is continuing.
Company president Gianna Manes says confidence is high after crews made great progress over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
“We continue to be on schedule for full power restore by Thursday midday,” she said.
Manes said there is no estimate yet of how much it will cost to fully repair the damage.
“All of those costs will be known in good time when this event is over,” she said. “Our first priority is restoring power.”
The outage zone stretches from Fifth Street to 11th Street S.W. and from Fourth Avenue to Seventh Avenue S.W.
Most routes were open as Calgarians returned to their downtown jobs Tuesday, said Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) director Ken Uzeloc.
But traffic is still restricted on Eighth Street S.W. where the east lane is being reserved for work crews. Canada Post says mail delivery will be affected in the area, and the Calgary Courts Centre is closed until Oct. 16.
Albertans with matters scheduled for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday are urged to visit the Alberta Courts website for information.
As the Court Centre is closed Bylaw violation tickets can be paid downtown @CalgaryPolice 3rd Floor, 316 7 Ave SE For info call 403-297-8444— City of Calgary (@cityofcalgary) October 14, 2014
Disaster costs rising
The city is paying for about 300 hotel rooms for roughly 450 downtown residents affected by the power outage, Uzeloc said.
The Big Four building at the Stampede Grounds can be used for accommodations if the number requiring help increases, he said.
It's expected that will happen as residents who have been toughing it out in darkened condos and apartments decide they don't want to go two more days without power.
Nenshi said fewer than 10 per cent of the people affected by the outage are turning to the city for accommodation.
"The vast majority of people are staying with friends and family," he said.
The city set up an emergency information centre at the Mewata Armoury on 13th Street and Ninth Avenue S.W.
Uzeloc said the city has so far spent about $86,000 on hotel rooms and food for people affected by the outage.
It will try to recover those costs through insurance and by applying to the provincial government for disaster assistance, he said.
Uzeloc encouraged Calgarians to reach out to people in need. People have been using #yycthanks on Twitter to offer displaced residents places to stay and other assistance.
“Calgary has always shown how well we can deal with this,” he said. “We need to keep helping one another. If you can help, help.”
Precise process to get power up again
During an update to the city's priorities and finance committee on Tuesday, Calgary police officials reported there has been no increase in crime or disorder since the power went out.
The Eau Claire YMCA and the Talisman Centre sports facility are both offering affected residents free passes so they can have access to hot showers while they are out of their homes.
Enmax crews are working round the clock to replace and repair the reams of cables that melted in the blaze.
“Once we get that work done, we then will have to splice the cables back together. When all the cables have been connected, the final two steps are testing the cable connections and then finally, re-energizing the entire network area that was affected,” the company said on its website.
- Watch the video below as Enmax explains the exact process. On mobile? Click here.
Nenshi told the Calgary Eyeopener that after last year’s flood, this year’s September snowstorm and now this fire outage, Calgary’s emergency officials have become such pros at crisis management and they’re in a position to help other municipalities.
“Because I figure we’ve learned something here. And if we can help others do a better job when, God forbid, emergencies and crises hit them, then we should be sharing that.”