Roughly 9,000 still without power after snowstorm pummels Manitoba

Some 9,000 Manitoba homes and businesses are still without power after last week's heavy snowstorm — down 4,000 from yesterday.

Manitoba Hydro sets up camps for workers to rest between 16-hour shifts

Manitoba Hydro hopes to have electricity restored by early next week, but some terrain in rural areas is challenging. (Submitted by Arnthur Jonasson)

Slogging through drenched fields and exposed to open prairie in near-freezing temperatures, Manitoba Hydro crews continued to restore power Wednesday to homes and businesses hit by last week's snowstorm.

Even with the help of workers from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota, many residents could be without electricity for several more days.

Manitoba Hydro crews work near Portage La Prairie, Man. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"All those wood poles that are down or damaged … have to be replaced," Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said.

"In the outlying areas where people, for lack of a better expression, are at the end of the road … it will take us a little bit of time to get to them."

The storm provided a double-whammy. It brought heavy, wet snow that took down or damaged thousands of poles and transmission towers across a wide swath of the province. And because it came on the heels of earlier wet weather, it left ditches filled with water and fields soggy.

To deal with the wet terrain, crews have been using tracked vehicles, which operate like tanks, to get to places that ordinary wheels have a hard time accessing. Workers from Saskatchewan and Minnesota also brought in extra vehicles, Owen said.

By Wednesday afternoon, roughly 9,000 customers were still without power — down from 13,000 on Tuesday and 53,000 on Saturday. Most of the remaining outages were in small towns, First Nations communities and farm country in the central part of the province.

One of the hardest-hit areas is the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie, a large, predominantly agricultural region that surrounds the city of the same name. Some 1,700 homes and businesses were without power, and the municipality was working to ensure people had enough food and other amenities.

Even residents who are normally prepared for emergencies with backup power and stocked food were feeling the pinch after six days, said Kam Blight, the municipality's reeve.

"We're identifying where people can access generators and hotel rooms and food," he said.

"But we also put out a call to identify what people need — what are you missing, what are you short on, what could you use. And then we're going to do our best to satisfy those needs."

The post-storm cleanup also has meant no school for students in the town of Langruth, northwest of Portage la Prairie.

The school was closed Wednesday and could be for the rest of the week, said Donna Miller Fry, superintendent of the Pine Creek School Division.

Hundreds of power poles and transmission towers are down in that region and the town is being used as a staging centre for hydro crews.

"Emergency measures have asked us to close that school because there is so much equipment going through town and so many teams working right now to try to rebuild the electrical grid and restore power," she said.

"They are working on many of the rural roads and have to actually close the roads while they're doing networks. We're not able to pick up the children on buses and return home."

Miller Fry said the elementary and high school are also closed this week in McGregor, west of Portage la Prairie, because of a burst sewer line.

Roughly 6,000 people were evacuated from a dozen First Nations communities. Most have been put up by friends or family or placed in hotels. Fewer than 100 spent Tuesday night in an emergency shelter, the Canadian Red Cross said. The agency scrapped plans to open a second shelter.

Niki Ashton, a New Democrat incumbent running for re-election in a federal riding that includes some of the affected First Nations, said she hoped Elections Canada will find a way to let evacuees vote in Monday's election if they are not back home.

Manitoba Hydro opened four camps for its crews near Portage la Prairie and in the Interlake region to the north. The camps are near community centres or other facilities with kitchens and provide a place to rest and recover in between 16-hour shifts.

"Not only to get a decent rest, but also be provided facilities where they can shower, eat, (get a)change of clothes, change of supplies," Owen said.

Blight said people in his area were helping each other until the power comes back on.

"I tell you, this community knows how to rally around and rise up to support each other. So we know we're in good hands when we need to call for some support and help."

With files from CBC staff


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.