WINNIPEG — Officials warned Sunday that repairs to a ruptured natural gas pipeline would take at least another day to complete, leaving thousands of residents without heat in temperatures well below freezing and forecast to get even colder.
The crisis also reached across the Canada-U.S. border with utility customers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin advised to turn down their thermostats.
Supplies of natural gas were cut off early Saturday when a TransCanada pipeline caught fire and blew up near Otterburne, about 55 kilometres south of Winnipeg. There were no injuries and RCMP said the incident was non-criminal. TransCanada and the Transportation Safety Board were working to determine the cause.
Manitoba Hydro said 4,000 customers are affected by the outage. The utility advised Sunday afternoon that repairs to the ruptured natural gas pipeline will take “at least another day.”
“Manitoba Hydro customers affected by the disruption in natural gas supply should prepare themselves for an outage that could last several days,” the utility advised in a news release.
With temperatures dipping well below -20 C, homeowners also faced the threat of serious damage to their homes due to water pipes freezing and bursting. Hydro advised residents to shut off the water and drain the pipes and hot water tanks before leaving their homes to seek shelter elsewhere.
Along with keeping a constant trickle of water running in her sink to avoid freezing pipes, one Niverville resident is trying to reduce her energy consumption.
“We have been turning off lights — at night last night we used candles. I didn’t use the dishwasher, I washed by hand,” said Jenna Hodge Kimbo.
Meantime, local emergency officials in three rural municipalities, including eight small towns, were putting emergency plans in place to make sure residents with no heat had somewhere warm to go. Trucks hauling compressed natural gas were being brought to various locations to provide heat in a few buildings.
The RM of Hanover was under a local state of emergency. Officials advised that warming centres had been set up at New Bothwell Christian Fellowship Church (47 kilometres south of Winnipeg) and Grunthal Abundant Life Fellowship Church (70 km south of Winnipeg). Plans for a warming centre at Kleefeld School (58 km south of Winnipeg) were delayed when the gas truck was diverted to provide heat to a personal care home.
“They’re there as a fall back, not that we expect lots of people, but we want people to feel comfortable that they can come if they need to warm up or rest because their house is cooling down,” said Bernie Stahn of the RM of Hanover.
In Niverville, about 43 km south of Winnipeg, a tanker with compressed natural gas was brought in to provide heat to the Niverville Heritage Centre; keeping the local Personal Care Home, Assisted Living and Supportive Care and Primary Health Care Centre up and running.
The RM of Ritchot had an emergency operations centre set up; the town of Ste. Agathe set up a warming centre at the local community centre.
The village of St-Pierre-Jolys, 57 km south of Winnipeg, had an “emergency prevention order” in effect and said classes would be cancelled at two local schools. A tanker truck was providing gas heat to the De Salaberry Health Centre.
In the United States, energy providers warned customers of a potential power shortage due to the pipeline rupture. XCel Energy said in a news release that three lines were affected: the one that blew up and two others shut down as a precaution.
“The three lines provide the main supply of natural gas to more than 100,000 Xcel Energy customers in eastern North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Xcel Energy on Saturday asked residential and business customers in those areas to conserve natural gas by turning their thermostats down to 60 (F — approximately 15 C) and avoiding using natural gas appliances and renewed that request (Sunday),” the company said in a statement on its website.
Manitoba Hydro said affected customers with concerns regarding their personal situation, shelter or livestock should contact their local government authority or emergency measures organization office:
TransCanada and Manitoba Hydro opened a Community Information Centre for affected residents in Niverville.
“Representatives from both companies will be available to provide information regarding their specific property and the status of natural gas and power service,” TransCanada said in a news release.
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