Central Alberta snowstorm cuts power, prompts emergency response

A snowstorm Friday has left communities in central and eastern Alberta without power, cutting heat and water to some homes for more than 24 hours.

ATCO crews are travelling from as far south as Lloydminster to fix broken power lines on a 24/7 rotation.

They are prioritizing larger communities that have gone the longest without power, according to Brent Kobelka, ATCO director of distribution operations.

"This is not one of the largest events that we've had, but it's certainly larger than just normal weekend system operations," Kobelka said.

"To have the number of outages that we do have and the number of customers impacted is significant, even for us."

Kobelka did not say how many people were affected, but areas around St. Paul, Glendon, Bonnyville, La Corey, Ardmore and Cold Lake are among those without power. Kobelka said he does not know when it will be restored.

Heavy and wet snowfall downed trees and froze power lines, causing them to snap. Poor road conditions are complicating matters, Kobelka added.

"Even our own four-wheel drive trucks are getting stuck right on main road services and that's delaying our efforts," he said. "I guess it's all in a day's work, but it certainly adds to the delays."

Emergency response teams activated

The power outage prompted the Kehewin Cree Nation to activate its emergency response teams.

Kehewin, around 20 kilometres south of Bonnyville, lost power at around 12:30 p.m. Friday, spokeswoman Shannon Hambly said.

As of early afternoon Saturday, the power had still not been restored to all homes.

"We did get some houses that were restored, but the latest reports that I've gotten is still only about half of my houses that were without power are still without power," Hambly said.

"Our main water line also went down sometime yesterday, so we had houses that had no water and no power. Just about every home that is without power is without heat."

It's not clear exactly how many people are affected by the outage, but Hambly said it affected up to 50 houses out of 240 on the First Nation. The houses are home to an average of eight people, she added.

A winter storm warning is in place for the region, where as much as 35 cm of snow is expected before it tapers off this afternoon. The excessive snow and cold temperatures is making it difficult for crews to restore power.

As of early Saturday afternoon, Hambly said ATCO had not given the community a timeline for repairs because accumulating snow was making it difficult to reach areas affected by the outage.

Hambly said the community has enacted its emergency response team and is working together to care for those affected by the outage, including calling and checking on Elders one by one.

"As far we we know, everybody has been checked on in some way or another. We were monitoring to make sure all of them were checked on, that each of the houses were checked on," Hambly said.

"I was just concerned last night because there were a lot of people that had nowhere to turn."

Hambly said it's expected to continue snowing throughout the day and into the morning. She's urging community members to continue checking in with each other. 

"Keep checking on your neighbours and keep monitoring the homes we've asked people to maintain reporting in," she said.

"That's the information we're using to make sure houses are coming back on with power."