Stolen truck crashes, sends natural gas 'howling' into air and forces evacuations
Manitoba Hydro asking customers who lost gas to be home Friday evening so crews can perform repair
Hundreds of people were forced from their homes northeast of Winnipeg on Thursday night after a crash filled the air with potentially explosive natural gas.
Manitoba Hydro is asking anyone who lost their natural gas to make sure they are at home Friday evening, so crews can reconnect it.
A stolen pickup truck slammed into a gas distribution centre on Highway 44, just north of the community of Tyndall, around 9:30 p.m., Manitoba Hydro officials said.
"It was extremely scary, actually. It was described by one person on the scene as it wasn't just gas blowing, it was gas howling," Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said.
"There was a large amount of natural gas escaping into the atmosphere [and] the fear, of course, is when you have a large amount of natural gas like that, there's always a risk of ignition.
"You don't even want a hint of the ignition with natural gas around."
Hydro 'needs you home' to restart gas
Manitoba Hydro is asking anyone who lost natural gas supply to make sure they're at home Friday evening.
Hydro has a temporary fix in place and is sending crews out to re-light pilot lights, but crews can only restore residents' heat tonight if they're around to let crews in.
"We're finding that a large amount of people aren't at home. We need you home so we can get access to your furnace, and relight it safey," Owen said.
Owen said customers can call 1-888-MBHydro to let their service people know you'll be home.
Hundreds lost gas
Above the distribution centre — a small metal building where the gas pipes emerge from underground and link to the distribution network — there was a wooden pole with an electrical transformer, so emergency crews who responded to the crash called in Hydro to de-energize the transformer.
"So we did, and as a result, 50 people lost power for approximately five hours," Owen said. Another 250 people were without natural gas service due to the crash.
About 10 families closer to the crash site were asked to evacuate their homes "out of an abundance of caution," Owen said.
Crews with an excavator dug down to find an underground pipe with a valve that allowed them to shut off the primary source of the gas, Owen said.
A posting on the Facebook page for the Rural Municipality of Brokenhead directed evacuees to register at the Tyndall Curling Club, which also was made available to anyone without electricity or gas so they could warm up.
Classes at Gillis School in Tyndall have been cancelled for Friday as crews work to repair the damage to the gas supply from the crash.
RCMP said no one was in the truck when emergency crews arrived. The vehicle was later reported stolen by the owner, police said.
There have been no injuries reported in connection to the crash, RCMP said.
Other than the risk of ignition and explosion, the gas that escaped and vented into the air caused no problems because it happened in a rural area, he said.
"It's when it's in urban areas and it's escaping in large amounts, natural gas tends to get into the sewers and tends to build up in the sewers. It can get into people's basements and build up in people's basements," he said.
Electricity was restored around 3:40 a.m. but it will take some time for the gas supply to be fixed, Owen said.
"Our plan is, if things go well, that people will have natural gas and their furnaces up later today — mid-afternoon, late afternoon."
Tyndall is 40 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Anyone who may have witnessed the collision is asked to contact the Beausejour RCMP at 204-268-2612.
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