Manitoba Hydro volunteers head to Ontario on Christmas Eve

WATCH: (Dec. 24, 2013) Dozens of Manitoba Hydro linesmen are setting aside their holiday plans to help out in the massive task of restoring power to tens of thousands of Toronto residents after a major ice storm brought down trees and power lines in Canada’s largest city. Tamara Forlanski reports.

WINNIPEG – On Christmas Eve, 42 Manitoba Hydro employees boarded a plane in Winnipeg, bound for Ontario, where they’ll help bring power back to tens of thousands of people.

All 42 paid employees volunteered to fly out. Some have young families and opened Christmas gifts with them Monday night, while others will wait to celebrate Christmas when they come back.

“My family, my wife and kids, they are at home there, doing Christmas,” said power line journeyman Wes Jawman. “We opened a few (gifts) last night before I had to leave.”

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Southern Ontario was hard hit by an ice storm over the weekend, and almost 500,000 people were left without power at some point in the leadup to Christmas. There were still 115,000 Toronto Hydro customers without power early Tuesday.

Some of the Manitoba volunteers drove through blowing snow in poor travel conditions from Brandon and Dauphin, Man., 200 and 250 kilometres from Winnipeg, respectively.

“I got called about 3:30 yesterday, asked if I’d volunteer. I said yes. Five p.m. it was confirmed I’d be on a plane today,” Jawman said.

Katelyn Tremaine’s boyfriend also boarded the plane.

He’s a lines man and drove nearly three hours though the night from Souris, Man., to Winnipeg to catch the flight.

“I was a little upset because we were supposed to be spending the holidays together,” said Tremaine. “It was more of a ‘Make sure you stay in contact and when you get home, we’ll do Christmas, and you owe me.’ ”

This was supposed to be the couple’s first Christmas together in the three years they have been dating.

“He promised me a call a day and I just hope that they are safe,” said Tremaine. “That’s the big thing, and he will be home when he gets home.”

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Warren Helgason, a Manitoba Hydro construction co-ordinator, also flew out Tuesday.

“We have good people, lots of really good people, and it’s just a matter of asking for volunteers,” he said. “We’re quite experienced in ice storms. We’ve done this many times, usually once or twice a year.”

WATCH: Manitoba Hydro Construction Supervisor Warren Helgason on spending Christmas away from his family, helping to restore power in Toronto

The workers all specialize in outdoor overhead line work. They’re expected to stay in southern Ontario for at least two weeks.

“Basically, I would imagine we would be clearing the lines and clearing everything from trees, getting conductors back up and rebuilding,” Helgason said.

“Most of these guys are young guys with young kids, so that is quite a sacrifice for them, and we appreciate it very much,” he added.

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“I’ll wait until I get home,” he said about his own Christmas.

Manitoba Hydro employees prepare to leave for Toronto, where they’ll help restore power to tens of thousands of people affected by the weekend ice storm. Eva Kovacs / Global News

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