Maritime Electric hits milestone with power back for half of its customers on P.E.I.

Maritime Electric has identified 504 power poles as damaged. This crew was putting up new poles in Charlottetown Wednesday. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)
Maritime Electric has identified 504 power poles as damaged. This crew was putting up new poles in Charlottetown Wednesday. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)

CBC P.E.I. continues to focus on the aftermath of Fiona. If your data or internet is limited, click here for the CBC Lite version of the P.E.I. site.

Maritime Electric workers are feeling a new optimism after hitting two benchmarks Wednesday night for restoring power following post-tropical storm Fiona on Saturday. But officials are still reluctant to say when power will actually be restored to all Islanders.

The utility had restored power to just over half of its customers as of Thursday afternoon. At a news briefing with provincial officials, Maritime Electric spokesperson Kim Griffin broke down by regions and percentages the homes and businesses who had their power restored:

  • 70 per cent in western P.E.I.

  • 55 per cent in Charlottetown.

  • 35 per cent in central P.E.I.

  • 30 per cent in eastern P.E.I.

Griffin also announced that all distribution lines going to communities have now been re-energized.

But that still leaves nearly 40,000 customers without power. Griffin said while she wouldn't give specific forecasts on when outages would be resolved for individual homes, she did say some communities could be waiting until at least Sunday or Monday to get power back.

"I'm hearing very positive sentiment from our crews and comments about the progress that they've been able to make under the circumstances and every day they become more optimistic," she said. "The weather has been on our side for the past couple of days and so far the forecast continues to be on our favour.

"I realize Islanders without power want to know a restoration time for their outage. At this point while our crews are optimistic, ... we're not able to provide what we consider an accurate estimation when individuals areas will be restored at this time."

Number of Maritime Electric customers without power

Maritime Electric's online outage map has been updated to account for much of the rerouting of electricity that has taken place this week to get the power back on quickly, and is now largely accurate in terms of overall numbers.

The utility cautioned earlier this week that the map was not accurate, and it remains unreliable in terms of showing outages at the neighbourhood level.

895 customers' masts damaged

There are now 137 crews on the road, with about 500 people working on restoration at the field level. Griffin said they expect to have 197 crews working over the next couple of days.

The number of downed poles is now 504. As well, 895 customers' masts are reported to be damaged, which Griffin said means restoring power will take even longer for those individuals.

CBC
CBC

Wade McKellop from Charlottetown is still without power as his home's mast hangs over its deck, damaged.

McKellop said a licensed electrician needs to look at the mast before the home can be hooked up to a pole so there's no potential for a fire, but that he has "no idea" when he'll be able to get one.

"Just so happens [I saw an electrician] down the street. I asked them you know, 'What about this mast?' And he said 'Yeah, I can get at it ... But you'd be 20th on the list," McKellop said.

"A neighbour of mine a couple of houses down got a hold of the electrician and they're number 50th on the list. So electricians are flat out."

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

Customers are responsible for mast repairs. Griffin said that while Maritime Electric is planning to reassign crews to assist with that process once restoration efforts in communities are over, clients with damaged masts will likely still need an electrician to fix the problem.

"I know you're rocked by what's happening in your life and your work and your family. And I just want you to power on and know we're trying to get the power on for your home, businesses, family and neighbours.

"Fiona hit us harder than any other storm, as I mentioned, in a 100-year history."

More details on relief plans

At the briefing, Premier Dennis King also announced new details about the province's financial relief plans for Islanders affected by the storm.

A disaster assistance fund for uninsured losses — such as if a tree fell on your property but didn't hit your house or car — will be available for individuals, businesses and municipalities.

King said the parameters for the program normally involve a $1,000 deductible. It was waived for low-income earners during Dorian, but the premier said that waiver has been expanded to all Islanders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for Fiona due to the extent of damage the storm caused.

The government will also be working to help seasonal workers whose season was cut short and as such may not have enough insurable earnings to file for EI. The emergency jobs initiative would provide funding for businesses so they can hire Islanders faster. King said more details would be announced Friday.

The premier also said the wage rebate which would cover up to $25 per hour up to $1,000 per week that was announced Tuesday will now be expanded to those who are self-employed or in the gig economy.

He said more than 800 insurance adjusters are on the Island, and he's received assurances from the Insurance Bureau of Canada they will be working to get money into the hands of Islanders as soon as a claim is started.

'This is hard-earned experience'

King also committed to launch a full review of the province's response to Fiona to make sure P.E.I. is  "better prepared" and "faster positioned" to react in the lead up to future disasters.

"We're in real time here trying to make these decisions as fast as we can. Are things we learned in Fiona that we'll employ better the next time? I think absolutely," he said.

"This is hard-earned experience that we're all learning here. Not just as government, but as Islanders in general. So yes, we will do that."

The premier said more people are now answering the 211 line — which was backed up — to help Islanders in desperate need.

He also told Islanders to call the Canadian Red Cross at 1-800-863-6582 to get more information on supports. But when CBC News called the number shortly after the briefing, they were told they had no information, and to check in with the Emergency Measures Organization.

 Curbside waste pickups resume

Meanwhile, Island Waste Management was resuming its regular curbside pickup schedule Thursday.

Louise Martin/CBC
Louise Martin/CBC

Drop-off centres were also reopening. Hours will be extended, and fees will be waived for people dropping off spoiled food. Extended hours are available on the IWMC web site.

Provincial civil servants were returning to work Thursday, but schools will remain closed until at least Monday. UPEI and Holland College are also closed.

So far, the Canadian Red Cross's Fiona appeal has attracted $10 million in donations, which the federal government will match for a total of $20 million.

"Money raised will enable the Red Cross to carry out relief, recovery, resiliency and risk reduction activities in and beyond the region at the individual and community levels," the organization says on its website.

Loan payment deferrals

Later on Thursday, the province announced it was deferring all loan payments with clients of Finance P.E.I., Island Investment Development Inc. and P.E.I. Century Fund for the month of October due to the impacts of Fiona.

"Hurricane Fiona has caused significant disruption for many industries across Prince Edward Island," Minister of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture Bloyce Thompson said in a release.

"We know many businesses remain closed or are operating at a reduced capacity due to damages or a loss of power. We hope this deferral helps reduce some financial stress during these challenging times."

Access P.E.I.

The province also announced later on Thursday that Access P.E.I. locations across the Island will be open Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon to help Islanders recovering from the impacts of the storm.

It also announced that the province is granting a 30-day grace period on all expiring motor vehicle registrations and driver's licences. Motor vehicle registrations can be done online.

The province said Islanders who need help cutting fallen trees on their property or moving large debris curbside because it is a safety hazard can call 1-833-734-1873 or any Access P.E.I. location to have their name put on a list for assistance. Islanders can also email the government or fill out a web form. Debris removal will start once the demand for road clearing and cleanup efforts have reduced.