The cleanup continues Saturday morning after a massive October snowstorm walloped the southern half of the province over the last two days.
The City of Winnipeg is warning people to avoid all non-essential travel as crews work to fix traffic signals that aren’t working, clear fallen branches and trees and plow streets.
This comes after a person was hit by a falling tree Friday afternoon and transported to hospital in critical condition.
“Right now the number one priority continues to be life safety, so this is of course making sure that our citizens are safe around down power lines,” said Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman in a news conference Saturday.
“I haven’t seen anything like it before. I know a lot of Winnipeggers haven’t either,” he added.
Bowman added all city-run recreation centres and libraries are closed and will re-open again on Sunday. Garbage and yard waste collection was delayed in some cases due to downed trees.
The city said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service responded to 870 calls for problems related to hydro lines, including three structure fires.
A near miss happened in Crescentwood when a transformer exploded earlier Saturday morning.
‘It was like fireworks’
Russell Enns woke up to some strange sounds.
“All of a sudden there were sparks. It was like fireworks, to be quite honest with you,” he told CBC News.
“It sounded just like it was New Years Eve or Canada Day celebrations.”
Manitoba Hydro says it’s working around the clock to restore power to homes throughout the province.
Bruce Owen, a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro, speaking to CBC’s Nadia Kidwai on Weekend Morning on Saturday, said more than 48,000 households province-wide are experiencing power outages as of 7 a.m. By 11 a.m., just under 53,000 households were affected.
“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 won’t let up.”
The storm system moved on from Winnipeg overnight, and so did crews. But Owen said utility crews had to be pulled off the roads in the Portage la Prairie and Neepawa areas because of near-blizzard conditions.
Hydro crews need roads cleared
He expects the crews to be back up and running as soon as they’re able to drive where they need to go.
Mayor of Portage la Prairie Irvine Ferris confirmed to CBC News the entire city is without power after the storm.
“A couple of our towers are down and there are a lot of other issues,” he said.
Crews have been working through the night to remove trees from priority routes and to keep roads open for emergency vehicles and essential services. We encourage people to stay home and stay off the roads today. We will continue to update through the day.
Manitoba Hydro said in a release on Saturday afternoon that crews are facing issues diagnosing the problems.
“We are having trouble even accessing those lines to locate the problems. Consequently, without power feeding those substations, we have large blocks of customers without electricity,” said Scott Powell, a spokesperson.
On Friday, Manitoba Hydro tweeted it wouldn’t be able to provide estimated times for power restoration. That was still the case on Saturday.
Owen said timing depends on each scenario, including whether there’s damage to a power line, whether a tree is involved, and on weather and road conditions.
He said Manitoba Hydro and the contracted crews prioritize certain areas first.
“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 without 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.
Heavy damage to trees
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.”
The city said in a release Saturday it received nearly 2,000 calls about fallen trees and branches. About 50 crews are working to clear and remove them across the city.
Bowman said crews are doing their best to clean up the city.
“I know all of us would like to have all of the power restored immediately; we’d like to have the streets clear, we’d like to have the trees removed immediately, but we do need to be patient with crews that are out there, he said.
Watch: Manitoba’s early snowstorm brings down trees with leaves still attached
A number of highways in the southwest are still closed due to weather conditions.
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.