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Thousands wait another day for natural gas after pipeline blast in Manitoba

ST. PIERRE-JOLYS, Man. - Tanker trucks carried emergency supplies of compressed natural gas on Sunday to heat critical locations in southern Manitoba as thousands of residents have to contend with no heat.

The residents have been told that a pipeline explosion on Saturday means they could have to spend several days in frigid temperatures without fuel to heat their homes.

Natural gas service for an estimated 4,000 people in municipalities south of Winnipeg was interrupted following a huge explosion at a TransCanada Pipelines valve site near St. Pierre-Jolys.

The explosion prevented the company from supplying natural gas to Manitoba Hydro, which informed customers on Saturday that service could be off for at least a day.

Manitoba Hydro said TransCanada still can't provide an estimate of when gas would begin flowing again and warned people through messages on its website to "prepare themselves for an outage that could last several days."

To top it off, the temperature in the region was below —20 C and many highways were closed due to blowing snow.

Heather Chambers Ewen, a spokesperson for the Rural Municipality of Hanover, said many people were staying home or going to stay with friends or family rather than venturing out to community warming centres.

"Quite frankly, it's pretty white," Chambers Ewen said as she looked out the window of the municipality's emergency operations centre. "I can't see the other side of the highway."

TransCanada said in a news release Sunday that is working with Manitoba Hydro to restore natural gas service as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, TransCanada said it and Manitoba Hydro were trucking limited supplies of natural gas to critical locations identified by the Provincial Emergency Measures Organization, such as the De Salaberry Health Centre in St. Pierre-Joly and the Heritage Life Personal Care Home in Niverville.

"TransCanada wants Manitoba Hydro customers affected by the natural gas outage to know that our staff are doing everything possible to determine the cause of the fire and get the pipeline repaired and regular natural gas service restored quickly, safely and in accordance with regulations," the company said in a news release Sunday.

TransCanada noted that "extreme winter weather" was making things difficult but that it was still mobilizing people and heavy equipment to the site. It said it would begin repairs as soon as possible, pending approval from the Transportation Safety Board and the National Energy Board.

There were no reports of injuries from the blast, which sent a massive fireball into the night sky and forced the evacuation of several nearby roads.

Crews isolated the line, and the flames were extinguished by Saturday afternoon.

RCMP said the cause of the explosion is not suspicious.

Residents who were evacuated have been allowed to return home.

The TSB and the NEB are investigating but no one from either agency could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Scott Powell, a spokesman for Manitoba Hydro, said there are actually two separate gas lines that supply the utility in the area. Unfortunately, he said the explosion interrupted service on both of them.

"We just know that we're not getting gas at our gate stations," Powell said. "We're ready to go whenever the supply comes back.

The utility was asking people who have electric heat to turn down their thermostats to conserve power. It also said that only approved space heaters should be used, warning that barbecues, kerosene heaters or temporary gas space heaters can produce harmful levels of carbon monoxide and pose a fire risk.

The Town of Niverville reported on its website that electricity failed in part of the community on Saturday night, but that it was quickly restored.

It said it planned to have 200 cots available at the town's Heritage Centre by the end of the day for anyone who needed a warm place to stay.

Chambers Ewen, who said she had electric heat, said a number of people have backup methods of heating their homes, such as fireplaces.

"Given the area we live in, there's a lot of people that have an alternative source of heat," she said.

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