Manitoba

Manitoba woman found unconscious from carbon monoxide, 12,500 still without power

Manitoba Hydro is urging customers reeling from a snowstorm that's left them without electricity for days to keep fuel-burning equipment like heaters out of their homes after a woman was found unconscious.

Manitoba Hydro orders workers to cancel vacations, stay on job to cope with storm

The City of Winnipeg has called in help from other provinces to clean up trees that have fallen because of last week's devastating snowstorm. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Hydro is urging customers reeling from a snowstorm that's left them without electricity for days to keep fuel-burning equipment like heaters out of their homes after a woman was found unconscious.

Some people in powerless homes have resorted to bringing generators, patio heaters or barbecues inside, but officials are warning against doing that because, Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said, the equipment is not properly ventilated.

A woman outside Morden in southern Manitoba is believed to have lost consciousness from carbon monoxide poisoning on Sunday after a propane heater was hauled into her house. She is now recovering in hospital.

A Hydro crew happened across the scene while trying to restore electricity from an unprecedented storm that's knocked down thousands of trees, downed power lines and forced the province, Winnipeg and many municipalities to call a state of emergency. Around 5,700 people have been relocated.

"A gentleman came out of the house distraught and was saying his wife was unconscious," Owen said.

"We got into the house right away and got her out, where she was able to at least get some fresh air."

A Manitoba Hydro tower near Portage la Prairie is buckled under the pressure of the heavy, wet snow. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Hydro is asking customers to keep their propane equipment outside.

"Carbon monoxide is an insidious gas. You can't smell it and it just creeps in, and you get tired, you feel ill. You shake it off, thinking there's nothing wrong," Owen said. "The next thing you know, you're unconscious."

Five days after the storm first rolled through, pummelling trees still laden with leaves and the electricity network, Owen said Manitoba Hydro's work is far from over.

As of Tuesday morning, 12,500 customers remained without power — and it may take seven to 10 days in some areas for electricity to be restored. Each customer is a single billing location, which can represent multiple people living in a residence.

The public utility is requiring its line crews, who have been working 16-hour days to restore power, to remain on the job for the next 21 days. 

Tree branches weighed down by snow dropped throughout Winnipeg, including on Spence Street. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Employees were notified by Hydro they must cancel any previously booked vacations, and they'd be reimbursed for any plans they scrap. 

"We need everyone," Owen said in an email.

In the City of Winnipeg where much of the snow has melted, the fallout from the storm could last for months.

Officials say cleaning up some 30,000 damaged trees could last until spring and cost millions of dollars. The city is bringing in people from Saskatchewan and Alberta to help with the work.

Winnipeg's executive policy committee approved a motion Tuesday calling on financial aid from the provincial government.

Manitoba Hydro workers are facing wet and muddy conditions in the Neepawa area. (Submitted/Manitoba Hydro)

More lines down than standing

Meanwhile, Manitoba Hydro is urging residents to be patient as they try to restore power, notably in the hardest hit areas such as Portage la Prairie, Neepawa, Dauphin and the Interlake region.

In some places, there are more power lines and poles down than standing, chief executive officer Jay Grewal has said.

She saw the damage for herself during the long weekend, which she described as surreal in a video that Hydro posted online.

"What's it like? I mean, I want the truth," Grewal asked a worker. "It's a sh-tshow out here," he answered. "That's the truth."

Portage la Prairie and neighbouring rural areas are among the most battered from the storm. At one point, the entire city of Portage, which has a population of about 13,000, was without power, and since lift stations that pump wastewater were down, residents were advised to not flush their toilets.

First Nation communities in the Interlake were told their power should be back on by Oct. 20, the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council said Tuesday in a news release.

A pressing focus for Hydro crews, as well as their reinforcements called in from Saskatchewan, Ontario and Minnesota, is fixing the downed transmission system in Portage la Prairie that feeds a number of substations.

"Without that, those substations just don't have the juice to give people the electricity they need," Owen said.

Crews clean up after in Winnipeg on Sunday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Patience running thin

The rural municipality of Portage has 2,200 customers without electricity, as of Tuesday.

Reeve Kameron Blight says he's impressed with how his neighbours are helping one another, but their patience — and his — is running thin. They want more information from Manitoba Hydro on how long the outage will last.

"We feel like we're being kept in the dark," Blight told CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon on Tuesday. 

The task at hand is significant for Manitoba Hydro crews in the Interlake, Portage and Neepawa regions of the province. (Manitoba Hydro)

The public utility has said it's too difficult to estimate restoration times.

The Canadian Red Cross says 5,700 people from 13 First Nations have been relocated. The vast majority of people are staying in Winnipeg, but some are in Brandon and Dauphin.

Some of the displaced Manitobans have slammed the evacuation process as chaotic, and say they're worried about elders sleeping on cots at Winnipeg's convention centre.

The Red Cross plans to move the most vulnerable people into hotels, spokesperson Jason Small said Tuesday morning.

The outages caused a water disconnection in some communities, including the regional municipality of Grey, some 80 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, which didn't have a backup generator to run their water booster stations. There was no running water in Elm Creek, Saint Claude and Haywood for at least 48 hours, RM utility manager Brenda Poulsen said.

Blight said he admires the resiliency of the many Manitobans helping their neighbours in need. He said people are delivering food, sharing generators and offering places to stay.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm a damn proud Manitoban. I've been through 2011 flood and the 2014 flood and Manitobans always come together, and I'm very grateful for that." 

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

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC's Marcy Markusa, Meaghan Ketcheson, Marjorie Dowhos, Thibault Jourdan

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