SaskPower crews headed to Manitoba after premier declares state of emergency

A broken power pole hangs outside Portage la Prairie, Man. The province declared a state of emergency on Oct. 12 after an extremely powerful slow moving storm rolled through last week. -- Manitoba Hydro/Twitter

Equipment, materials and 23 SaskPower employees are on their way to help Manitoba following a major blizzard that severely damaged the province’s electrical grid.

SaskPower is providing aid as part of a Mutual Assistance Agreement, something commonly established between utility companies in North America to help after hurricanes, blizzards and other severe weather events.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister declared a state of emergency on Oct. 12 after 50 to 100 millimetres of precipitation fell in the central and southern parts of the province. The City of Winnipeg is one of eight communities to declare a local state of emergency.

“While many Manitobans are preparing for a return to work after a long weekend, there are areas of the province still feeling the impact of the storm and much restoration and cleanup work remains,” Pallister said in a media release on Monday.  “The cities of Winnipeg and Brandon will also host a number of evacuees for several days.”

The extremely powerful slow moving storm left roughly 34,000 without power as of Sunday afternoon, Manitoba Hydro reported. That list included the City of Portage la Prairie and several remote Indigenous communities. Power was restored to a “large portion of the city” by Sunday night, according to an update from the Manitoba Hydro twitter account.

President and CEO Jay Grewal said the effects of the storm are far worse than initially anticipated, and the extensive damage will take days to repair.

“Once we began to get access to these areas and previously impassable roads with the help of staff from Manitoba Infrastructure, we began discovering levels of damage never seen before, spread across a large geographic area,” she explained. “Sections of our transmission and distribution system are completely destroyed, and will require a total rebuild before coming back on line. In addition, we are still experiencing issues with impassable roads and possible shortages of the materials needed to repair the damage.”

Manitoba Hydro has never had to ask outside utilities like SaskPower for help. Grewal said it’s a testament to just how damage they’re dealing with.

“We are trying our best to deliver power from other supply sources to the affected areas, but in many cases the damage to local distribution systems is so widespread, there is no way to get that power to our customers,” she said. “Having the province declare the State of Emergency will help us partner with other local authorities and bring additional resources to bear on the challenges we face.”

In Winnipeg, crews continued to clear and remove downed trees from city streets on Thanksgiving Day. It’s estimated that more than 30,000 trees were knocked over during the storm. That number only incudes trees on city-owned property. City officials have also reached out to other municipalities around the country for assistance.