The cleanup begins: Power slowly being restored, Manitobans begin to dig out after record-breaking snowstorm

Trees down on Roslyn Road. Jon Lovlin/Global Winnipeg

It was a record-breaker.

A total of 150,000 Manitoba homes and businesses lost power at some point Friday as a Colorado low slammed into the province – the most ever to lose power in Manitoba in one day, said Manitoba Hydro’s Bruce Owen.

“This is unprecedented, what we’re dealing with, so early,” said Owen. “We haven’t seen that before. Just because of the sheer number of outages, it will take us a while so we can get everybody up.”

The Manitoba Hydro outages map on Saturday as of 7:15 a.m. Google Maps

“We have made progress, at least in Winnipeg,” he said. “At the height of yesterday, we had approximately 27,000 people without power, we’ve now got about 7,500 people without power (inside Winnipeg).”

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However, other areas west of Winnipeg weren’t as lucky, thanks to near-blizzard conditions. “We couldn’t get to the rural areas safely.”

Hydro is working with the province to get graders to plow roads into problem areas to be able to restore power, said Owen. Extra staff and contractors have been called in to help and they will “get going, full steam” at dawn.

Downed trees and branches are still the main problem, he added, meaning crews have to safely clear the tree or branch before lines can be repaired.

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The winter storm warning for the city of Winnipeg ended at about 5 a.m., but the warning remained in effect for south central and south western Manitoba.

Environment Canada called for a high of 1 C for Winnipeg, with a chance of flurries in the afternoon.

The reporting station at The Forks recorded 44.5 mm of precipitation over the entire storm.

West of Winnipeg, snow will continue, up to 15 cm to add to the 40-60 cm already accumulated, said weather expert Bruce Johnson.

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There is some hope the snow will melt, he added.

“Maybe a week,” he said. “It’s going to be slow because of the white surface… If we get in a position where both the temperature and the dew point are above freezing, then the snow will melt faster.”

City of Winnipeg crews worked through the night to clear streets.

Jason Shaw, left, and Mayor Brian Bowman update media Saturday. Dan Turnbull/Global News

At a press conference just after 10:30 a.m., Mayor Brian Bowman said crews are still cleaning up and asked people to be patient.

He also asked people to check in on their neighbours to make sure everyone was OK.

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Jason Shaw of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said the city’s Emergency Operations Centre was still active and are still working to help Manitoba Hydro restore power to about 8,000 customers inside Winnipeg.

While that number is expected to improve over the next 36 hours, said Shaw, it will come down slowly, as they’re now dealing with more difficult fixes.

As for tree cleanup, that will take longer.

Shaw said the city hasn’t seen tree damage like this and they are formulating a plan on how they will deal with cleaning up the thousands of downed trees and branches on streets and property.

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About 2,000 calls have been made about downed trees to 311, and about 50 crews are out cleaning them up.

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Traffic signals were still down at seven intersections Saturday, said the city.

Click to play video: 'Crews work to fix downed light standard in Winnipeg storm'
Crews work to fix downed light standard in Winnipeg storm

Several highways south and west of Winnipeg were still closed just before 9 a.m. Saturday.

Highway 75 opened at about 9:30 a.m.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Infrastructure said crews were out overnight, and said they were able to get a plow on Highway 2 at about 4 a.m. where several people were stranded in their vehicles. Crews are working to rescue everyone.

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Firefighter union president Alex Forrest said they set their own records, responding to a large number of calls. At one point, he said, they were responding to a new emergency call every single minute.

“This kind of snow, we call basically heart attack snow,” said Forrest, adding there were numerous fires overnight related to downed lines.

The Red River was at 12.03 James Avenue datum at 7:15 a.m., up slightly from Friday. The Red River Floodway was opened Wednesday evening.

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The current river levels. City of Winnipeg

Several events were cancelled, including Saturday’s Tegan and Sara concert at the Garrick Centre. Because the duo is unable to reschedule, tickets will be refunded, said Ticketmaster.

Saturday’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers game at Investors Group Field is still on. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. CJOB’s Bob Irving said crews were plowing the field overnight.

The Assiniboine Park zoo, however, remained closed, due to power disruptions. The Park Cafe, English Garden, Nature Playground and Children’s Garden are also closed.

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The Farmer’s Market in St. Norbert was on, but was moved inside.

Over at James A. Richardson International Airport, things were returning to normal Saturday.

“Since the start of the storm there has been 14 arrivals and 14 departures cancelled,” said spokesperson Tyler MacAfee. “With the snow stopping and winds slowing, we are moving into clean-up mode at the airport.”

‘Snowflowers’ in rural Manitoba Saturday morning. Curtis McRae/Submitted

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