It was a Thanksgiving weekend to remember.
More than 14,000 customers, mostly in rural Manitoba, remained in the dark Tuesday after a wicked Colorado Low whirled through southern Manitoba last week, damaging tens of thousands of trees, twisting transmission towers like tinfoil and snapping hydro poles, as many as 3,000 in the Interlake and Portage la Prairie area.
Despite the extent of the damage, Manitoba Hydro crews, bolstered by help from SaskPower, Ontario’s Hydro One and crews from Minnesota, have slowly whittled away at the numbers of customers without power.
While thousands of customers in and around Portage la Prairie remain without power, most of the city had been restored by Monday night.
Manitoba Hydro is setting up numerous camps for workers as restorations continue, which is expected to take at least another week.
A 46-person camp is set up at St. Claude, along with a 155 and two 49-person camps at South Port. In the Interlake, three 49-person camps are at Lundar and a 100-person camp will be set up shortly at St. Martin.
“Our main focus today is getting the city of Portage la Praire up, we still have approximately 1,200 customers without service,” said Manitoba Hydro’s Bruce Owen. “And then we have to start getting the RM up.”
Hydro is concentrating their efforts on a transmission system that runs north of Portage that has been severely damaged, said Owen, and the system feeds into several substations in the RM.
Owen was unsure how many transmission towers were damaged, but said some are damaged are beyond repair and need replacing.
Now that the snow is starting to melt, the other concern is making sure the concrete foundations the towers stand on haven’t been compromised, said Owen.
RM of Portage la Prairie Reeve Kam Blight said he was devastated to hear his home and business owners could be without electricity for a week or more.
“I’ll be honest, that really hit hard,” he told 680CJOB. “I’ll be heading back into our office in the city of Portage and looking at setting up an emergency command center and trying to figure out where we go from here.”
Blight said locals are pulling together as best they can.
“I know a lot of farmers have generators, and those that haven’t had generators have bought generators in the last several days,” he said.
Area farmer Jason Finnie lives about 10 km north of Portage la Prairie and has been without power since Thursday.
“We have no hot water … but it’s not too bad due to the generators,” he said Tuesday morning. “Got a couple of little space heaters running, freezer’s running, fridge is plugged in.”
Finnie said he wasn’t too concerned on Friday, but by Saturday morning, he knew it would take time before he was hooked back up to the electrical grid.
Not only is Finnie waiting for power to be restored, he’s waiting for his fields to dry out enough to harvest.
The canola he did harvest a few days ago is wet, he added, and he has no electrical means to dry his crop.
“I guess we’ll turn it today and flip it over to other bins, just to see what it’s like and go from there.”
Inside the City of Winnipeg, more than 250 customers remained without power as of 7 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The melting snow and weekend precipitation means Red River levels went back up in the city up to 14.67 James Avenue datum, from a weekend low of 11.95 James Avenue datum.
Portage fire chief Phil Carpenter said that while a majority of the city’s residents are back up and running with power, his team’s objective is to help the remaining few in the dark – as well as the additional Hydro workers in the area.
“Today our goal is to try and work with people who don’t have power yet in our city,” said Carpenter.
“We’re quarterbacking, assisting with the camp for the Hydro workers who are working in our area. We have to set things up to make sure they’re comfortable so they can do their work.
“Hopefully we’re just helping one another get through it.”