The province of Manitoba announced Sunday it declared a state of emergency at midnight after a powerful, slow-moving storm damaged major transmission towers and broke hundreds of hydro poles in the southern half of the province.
“Last night we declared a limited state of emergency to allow Manitoba Hydro to access resources through mutual aid agreements it has with other power providers in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Minnesota,” Manitoba premier Brian Pallister said.
The Crown corporation reached out to these providers for replacement towers and specialized electrical equipment as well as crews to help with restoration.
That help couldn’t come sooner, according to Jay Grewal, the president and CEO of Manitoba Hydro.
“The damage is unprecedented. In some areas we have more lines and poles down than standing,” she said. “We’re working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to get safe reliable power back to all Manitobans.”
The early snowstorm brought heavy snow, freezing rain and strong winds to the southern parts of the province, snapping trees still laden with leaves and downing power lines. Thousands have been without power since Friday.
Grewal said it’s working with other utilities to get power back on track.
“It is challenging to replace transmission towers. We are fortunate though, that the utilities we’re working with have equipment and we’re already sourcing towers from our suppliers in Ontario,” Grewal said.
“So really the challenge is the logistics to get that equipment to the locations we need given the limited access. That’s our primary issue is access.”
Provincial Indigenous and northern relations minister Eileen Clarke said between 14 and 16 First Nations are affected by power outages and bad weather. Of the roughly 15,000 people who live in the communities, about 5,000 people are evacuating to Winnipeg.
“Chiefs are also telling me their families, their people are scared, they’re stressed and it’s very difficult for the leadership and the First Nations to deal with this. They’re struggling to make sure their people are safe,” she said.
Pallister added the federal government is working with the Canadian Red Cross to ensure people are safe and have a place to stay.
Slow progress on highways
The premier said the province has deployed around 200 pieces of heavy equipment, including private contractors, to clear roads and highways, but the progress has been slow because of drifting snow.
“There are, at present, approximately 2,700 kilometres of roads closed,” he said.
Pallister said by the end of Sunday, he believes the majority of highways will be reopened.
Some relief in sight
Some good news is on the horizon.
Pallister said no rain is expected for the coming week, and the temperature forecast is between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius for the next few days.
“This means gradual melting and will reduce overland flooding potential in some parts of the province where we have seen significant rainfall and snowfall,” he said.
Pallister added rivers are expected to stay within their banks.
He said province is deploying water-filled barriers as a precaution to protect vulnerable homes.