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Rainstorms pound province

Strong winds topple trees, knock out power in city

A large tree lies across Pritchard Avenue between Charles and Aikens streets after strong winds overnight Sunday. Elsewhere, falling trees crushed parked vehicles.

TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

A large tree lies across Pritchard Avenue between Charles and Aikens streets after strong winds overnight Sunday. Elsewhere, falling trees crushed parked vehicles.

Mother Nature's climatic vendetta against Manitoba was on full display this weekend.

A large tree lies across Pritchard Avenue between Charles and Aikens streets after strong winds overnight Sunday. Elsewhere, falling trees crushed parked vehicles.

Enlarge Image

A large tree lies across Pritchard Avenue between Charles and Aikens streets after strong winds overnight Sunday. Elsewhere, falling trees crushed parked vehicles. (TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

After enduring the worst winter since 1898 and then waiting until well into May for spring, Manitobans are mopping up today from an all-weekend deluge that flooded basements, streets, highways and farmers' fields.

Strong winds toppled trees and knocked out power in many locales.

Branches and whole trees were lying across some city streets Sunday, blocking cars, and in some cases, crushing parked vehicles.

Florine Hotomani said she was up at 5 a.m. Sunday, but didn't hear the large tree that had fallen in front of her house on Pritchard Avenue between Charles and Aikens streets and narrowly missed her van. The tree was blocking the whole road, forcing cars to turn back.

Hotomani said she phoned 311 around 7 a.m., but was told someone had already called.

Scott Powell, a spokesman for Manitoba Hydro, said there were several large power outages Sunday morning, but most of them were resolved by the afternoon.

About 1,170 customers in North Kildonan were without power early Sunday, but back on the grid by 10 a.m., Powell said.

Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, tweeted Sunday the storm had led to 400 calls to city firefighters over the last 24 hours -- one of the heaviest days for the department in a year.

Fort Garry was also hit by outages. About 1,300 customers were affected there, Powell said, and were back by about 6:10 a.m. Fort Garry was hit again later in the day around noon, and more than 500 customers were left without power.

The Interlake was also hit hard by power outages, Powell said. "Wherever these high winds are, that's what causes the problem," Powell said. More than 6,200 people were without power in that region, including Gimli, Arnes, Riverton and Pine Dock on Sunday, but Powell said most of that had been restored by 1 p.m.

Some of the more localized city outages were caused by trees falling onto power lines, Powell said.

"In many of these cases, finding the cause of the outage is what takes more time because you've got to actually physically patrol the line, take a look at it,and find where that issue is before you can even begin to resolve the problem," he said.

"They could affect 10 customers, or six, or three, but it takes the same amount of time to respond to that as one with 800," he said.

Powell said Manitoba Hydro was mobilizing additional resources but couldn't speak to the exact number.

"People who haven't gone away, they're in. We're bringing in everyone we can," he said.

If people see a downed power line, stay away and don't touch any part of it, Powell said. Call Manitoba Hydro, he empahsized.

The duration of the storm was the deciding factor in how fast crews could clean up the trees and bring power back on, Powell said, but if the weather didn't relent, restoration could continue into today.

"If we continue to see these high winds, it's anybody's guess," he said.

Michelle Bailey, a spokeswoman for the city, said between Friday, when the storm started, and Sunday afternoon, there were 300 calls about broken, hanging or fallen branches and trees.

Bucket trucks were out removing bigger trees blocking roads. Most damage was in the north part of the city when the storm started, but she said reports were coming in about damage in the south end as well.

"There's a lot of damage. It's been busy. And we're looking for more. It's not slowing down right now," she said.

Basements were flooding, too. Bailey said there were 12 reports of sewer backup into basements, seven reports of clean water backups, 67 calls of plugged catch basins and two reports of overland flooding into homes.

Bailey said because many people would be out of the city for the long weekend, the actual numbers could be higher.

"Numbers are a really tough thing to be accurate about. Quite honestly, we're getting the best that we can, and I think it's really important for people to understand... this is a best-guess scenario," she said.

Rob Paola, a severe weather meteorologist for Environment Canada, said the storm is unusual for this time of year.

"It's a rather unseasonably intense system. This is the kind of storm system we'd expect in spring or fall," Paola said.

The damage was far more extensive in southern Manitoba, he said.

As of Sunday. Brandon had received 106 millimetres of rain since Friday, while Dauphin had received 80 mm. Brandon declared a state of emergency around 5 p.m. on Sunday, saying in a release the widespread overland flooding was the reason. The state of emergency gives the town some extra powers to deal with the flooding.

The rain in Dauphin didn't stop the Countryfest festivities. Every scheduled act went on stage, despite non-stop rain since 1 p.m. on Saturday, stated a press release from the festival.

Eric Irwin, Countryfest president, said the rains were some of the worst, but not the worst, he's seen since the festival's beginning.

"So far, it's not as bad as it was in 1993, when flash floods washed out the road to The Pas and people going that way couldn't leave. But we still have one more day to go, so we'll have to wait and see what Mother Nature deals us today," Irwin said in the release.

In the city, the Goldeyes game against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks was washed out. Winnipeg's airport had some flight cancellations and delays due to the weather affecting the runways, spokeswoman Felicia Wiltshire said. "With the winds and all the water, it's making the runways slick," she said.

The rain will continue until Tuesday, Paola said, but the worst is behind us.

"This storm has basically bottomed out in its intensity, but it's still a strong system for the next 24 hours anyways," he said.

By Wednesday, Winnipeg should see several days of uninterrupted sunshine.

Updated flood information can be found at www.gov.mb.ca/flooding.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

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