Manitoba Hydro focusing on outages in rural areas as storm pummels southwest

Manitoba Hydro says its working around the clock to restore power after a snow storm walloped the southwestern part of the province over the last two days.

Bruce Owen, a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro, spoke to CBC’s Nadia Kidwai on Weekend Morning Saturday and said more than 48,000 households province-wide are experiencing power outages as of 7 a.m.

“This storm system has lingered a number of days and it has caused ongoing problems,” he said. “As soon as we fix one thing, boom, two to three things more break because this storm just wont let up.”

The storm system moved on from Winnipeg overnight, and so did crews. But Owen said Hydro crews had to be pulled off the roads in the Portage la Prairie and Neepawa areas because of near-blizzard conditions. 

He expects the crews to be back up and running as soon as they’re able to drive where they need to go.

“We’re working with Manitoba Infrastructure right now and at first light in those areas they’re going to be firing up their graders,” he said. “They’re going to be working with us, not to open roads for the public, but to open roads for us so we can get into problem areas so we can begin restoration efforts.”

Owen said Hydro and the contracted crews prioritize certain areas first.

Lane Gibson sent this photo to CBC of an oak tree that fell onto his home on Winnipeg’s Kingston Crescent. (Submitted by Lane Gibson)

“We try to restore the greatest number of people first,” he said. “People in more isolated areas, smaller outages, we will get to them next.”

At the height in Winnipeg, 27,000 households were out of power. Owen said that number is now down to about 7,000. 

The storm arrived so early this fall that most trees are still loaded with leaves, which are now supporting the snow and causing the branches to bear more weight than normal.

“And they are coming down on our [power] lines,” said Owen, urging the public to be careful.

Matt Vinet, a manager at Green Drop, one of the yard maintenance companies contracted to do the work, called the situation “a tree apocalypse” on Friday.

“I don’t mean to be so alarmist, but it looks pretty grim at this point,” he said. “We’re going to see a lot of damage to a lot of trees.”

Trees weighed down by wet, heavy snow have fallen in the city, including in Winnipeg’s Wildwood neighbourhood. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is expected to speak to media later this morning to give an update on the conditions in Winnipeg.

A number of highways in the southwest are still closed due to weather conditions.

‘It takes time’

On Friday, Manitoba Hydro tweeted it wouldn’t be able to provide estimated times for power restoration.

That’s still the case Saturday, and Owen said timing depends on each scenario, including whether there’s damage to a power line, whether a tree is involved, weather and road conditions.

“It takes time, not only to get there, but to do the work,” he said.

For those who don’t like the snow, a bit of a reprieve is coming.

“It should be moving on later today, if not already, but we still have to fix all the damage that it’s left in its wake,” Owen said.

He added Manitoba Hydro is fully capable of fixing the problems associated with the storm, the storm just hasn’t let up to allow crews to attend to it all.

“We do have the staff available to do this, we do have the equipment, and we do have all the support people behind our field crews to make sure the trucks are gassed up,” Owen said. “Our issue has been the weather.”

Residents reeling after wet dump of snow takes down power lines, snaps trees like twigs. 1:47

Highway closures

Dozens of highways and roads throughout southern Manitoba to the U.S. border and the Saskatchewan border are closed to traffic due to poor winter driving conditions.

It’s not known when they will reopen.

Some highways have been closed for over 24 hours.

Highway 75 from the U.S. border to Winnipeg is closed due to road conditions. (Walther Bernal/CBC)