More evacuees from First Nations could return home this weekend: Manitoba Hydro

About 6,000 evacuees from Manitoba First Nations were registered with the Red Cross as of Saturday, most of whom are staying in Winnipeg in hotels or in an emergency shelter after last week's snowstorm caused widespread power outages.

Canadian Red Cross seeking volunteers to support evacuees in Winnipeg

Manitoba Hydro says as of Saturday, it had repaired a little more than half of the distribution lines that were downed by last week's snowstorm, and two of five vital transmission lines. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

More evacuees from First Nations communities who were forced from their homes by power outages after last week's snowstorm could be returning home this weekend, according to Manitoba Hydro.

About 6,000 evacuees from Manitoba First Nations were registered with the Canadian Red Cross as of Saturday, most of whom are staying in Winnipeg in hotels or in the emergency shelter.

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said people from some evacuated communities have already been able to return, but as of Saturday, residents of five First Nations still hadn't been able to go home.

Although workers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Minnesota are making good progress, there's still a lot of work to do in order to restore power, Owen said.

"A lot of the wood poles we're replacing are in water-filled ditches, so our staff and our contractors who are helping us are working up to their armpits in ice-chunky water. It's tough going and it'll take a little bit of time," he said.

"We're hoping to get some communities and some customers up perhaps as early as today, tomorrow, into early next week, but it all depends on the progress," he said Saturday morning.

Manitoba Hydro crews are repairing down distribution lines, hydro poles, and transmission lines across the province. (Manitoba Hydro/Twitter)

The communities where he said it might take the longest to restore power are in the Lake Manitoba Narrows area, because of poor working conditions.

"The fields, the ditches are full of water. The side roads, the rural roads, are really muddy," he said.

"We have to get new poles to these sites, spools of power lines, and we still need to get our people. It's these isolated areas in the Lake Manitoba Narrows that we're focusing on and that will take a little bit of time."

Owen said hydro workers have fixed a little more than half of the downed distribution lines so far.

And of the five transmission lines that were down, two vital ones are back up and running, he said. The other three will take weeks, possibly months to fix.

By noon on Saturday, power was fully restored in both Dauphin and Neepawa.

Just over 3,500 customers are still without power across the province.

In the city of Portage la Prairie, which was at one point was entirely in the dark, there are two customers without power, and 641 more in the rural municipality, Manitoba Hydro said Saturday.

'They are resilient'

For evacuees still in Winnipeg, the Red Cross is offering three meals a day and snack services at its emergency shelter. For children, there are crafts and story time, and movies playing.

"I think it's a very stressful time for a lot of people. Evacuations are never easy," said Ali Everitt, the provincial operations manager in the emergency department for the Red Cross.

"But they are resilient. They're very strong people, they're very strong communities."

In terms of health supports on site, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has provided nurses, and there are pharmacy supports so evacuees can access their prescription medication.

In addition,  Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's mobile crisis response unit is on site for psycho-social supports.

Storm evacuees were among the hotel guests at Winnipeg's Victoria Inn on Monday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Everitt says Manitobans have been generous to the evacuees, including the Manitoba Moose, who donated a number of tickets to their latest game.

The response to the disaster is mostly volunteer-led, she said.

"About 80 to 90 per cent of our workforce at the Red Cross is volunteers and these are great people, doing a great job. They're out there every single day, 24 hours a day, to make sure everyone is taken care of," Everitt said.

She added that people who want to support the evacuees can volunteer with the Red Cross.

"It's a really great way to work with people in a time of disaster, have an impact, and know you've made a positive change for someone's day."