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‘This is a significant challenge’: Manitoba still working to restore power, under official state of emergency

Tens of thousands of Manitobans are still without power around the province and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister hopes an official state of emergency can help repairs get done quicker.

Pallister said the move will allow for Manitoba Hydro to deal with the aftermath of the major winter storm that saw parts of the province get hit with more than 70 cms of snow.

“This is a significant challenge,” Pallister said. “It is clear the tremendous effort to restore power and other activities will be ongoing for some time.”

“The state of emergency will help with that effort.”

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READ MORE: Thousands of Manitobans without power cope with difficult conditions after storm

The state of emergency was put in place just after midnight.

The formal step allows Hydro to invoke mutual aid clauses.

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“This allows us to tap into our mutual aid agreements with neighbouring utilities,” said Hydro’s spokesperson Bruce Owen. “Saskatchewan, for instance, Ontario, and northern U.S. states… where their staff and equipment can help us do this work.”

SaskPower has confirmed to Global News they will be sending crews to the province and they are expected to be in Manitoba at some point Sunday.

“The damage is unprecedented,” Manitoba Hydro CEO Jay Grewal said. “In some areas we have more lines and poles down than standing.”

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READ MORE: Manitoba Premier preparing to declare state of emergency after snow storm

Manitoba Hydro has reached out to Hydro One, Minnesota Power and SaskPower to request specific resources such as replacement transmission towers, distribution poles and specialized electrical equipment as well as crews to help with restoration.

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“We need steal towers, we need cross arms,” Grewal said. “We are working with all three utilities to source equipment, to source materials and to source operators.”

Manitoba Hydro crews have been working around the clock to restore power, but more than 37,000 customers were still left in the dark of Sunday morning.

Hydro said at the peak of the storm more than 150,000 customers were with out power. Since Thursday, crews have restored power to more than 217,000 customers in total.

“We’ve been able, overnight, to cut that Winnipeg area down considerably,” said Owen. 

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Pallister said there is still concern of more flooding in some parts of the province that were already dealing with high water.

“RM’s in southeastern Manitoba are watching the water levels,” he said. “The province is also deploying, as a standby, water filled barriers to protect vulnerable homes.”

Manitoba Hydro will deploy a temporary power line to the east side of Portage La Prairie, where at least three quarters of the city was still without power by mid-day Sunday.

“Our citizens and business people have been very patient and stoic, and under the circumstances I think they’ve handled it very well,” Portage La Prairie Mayor Irvine Ferris said Sunday.

But there are still significant challenges for the southeastern Manitoba city to grapple with, Ferris said — the city’s sewage and water system was still without power Sunday and most of the traffic lights weren’t on.

Resident Bill Calder was shoveling the sidewalk in front of his home Sunday.

“Thank God I’ve got a four-by-four truck,” he said. “It was pretty bad really. Line ups at the grocery stores that are open… Really, everybody else is hunkering down.”