‘Like a tornado went through’: Part of Portage la Prairie in the dark after storm

More than 3,000 people are still in the dark in Portage la Prairie, Man., along with another 3,400 in the surrounding area, after a severe storm hammered the southern half of the province, severely damaging hydro poles and lines.

At one point, the entire city had no power.

“It’s been a struggle,” says Portage la Prairie resident Erin Jordan, who hasn’t had power since Friday night. She and her family knew snow was on the way but didn’t think it would be this bad.

“I definitely was not prepared the way I should have been. I didn’t have groceries like the easy stuff at home. We had a loaf of bread and that kind of stuff. We definitely weren’t ready for this,” she said.

Jordan said she brings her two kids, Violet and Tristan to the local community centre for a couple of hours a day so they can take showers and be in a heated facility.

Portage la Prairie business owner Heather Greenlay was shocked when she surveyed the damage. 

“It looks like a tornado went though almost every area of Portage. Trees twisted up, building facades twisted off and roofs peeled back,” she said.

Erin Jordan and her family have been without power since Friday night. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Greenlay says her business, Vintage Heather’s, which is located in the local mall, is suffering.

“I don’t have WiFi, I can’t get to my cell phone. Here at the mall, we are down, we don’t have any power, so of course there’s no walk-in traffic. It does affect us, for sure,” she said.

Manitoba Hydro crews have been working around the clock to restore power to the area.

(Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Irvine Ferris, the mayor of Portage la Prairie, who lost power himself, said it’s been a challenging few days.

Aside from not being able to turn on the lights, residents have had to cut back on water use and haven’t been able to flush their toilets because the waste water system runs on electricity.

“We’ve had to really reduce the use of water into the system,” Ferris said.

He said over a hundred people were stuck in the city because of road closures. The municipality opened a reception centre to host people who couldn’t find hotel rooms. He said 80 people stayed there.”It’s been kind of a crazy 48 hours, but at the same time we’ve seen kind of the best in people,” he said.

“They’ve been very stoic, very patient, and you know what? Portage has made the best of a bad situation, I think that’s what we’ve seen here in the last few days.”

The City of Portage says much of the hydro work that needs to be done within the city will be done by Monday night.

Disaster preparation ‘top of mind’

Ferris says infrastructure in the province needs to be fortified to better withstand large climate events.

“What we’re hearing from scientists is cities need to increase their capacity, for example, to handle larger rain events and those kinds of things, so that’s something that’s top of mind for us as a municipal government,” he said.

Ferris said the municipality will work with the federal and provincial governments along with other municipalities to work at that.

Portage la Prairie mayor Irvine Ferris says cities need to brace for more severe weather events like the snowstorm that pummelled his city. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

“This is not a unique challenge to Portage la Prairie. This is a challenge that every city in North America will face,” he said.

“I think disaster preparation needs to be top of mind.”

Thanksgiving sandwiches

Ferris’ says this Thanksgiving has been strange.

Before the power went out, his wife put the turkey in the fridge to thaw. Without power, though, they haven’t been able to roast it like they normally do.

They do, however, have a barbecue that runs on propane.

“Of course you can’t leave it forever, so she put it on the barbecue,” he said. 

“We’ve had some turkey sandwiches. It’s pretty good!”

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