01/27/2014 08:37 EST | Updated 03/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitobans left in cold by pipeline explosion to soon get heat

Thousands of Manitobans are still without natural gas after a huge pipeline explosion near Otterburne, but relief is on the way.

About 4,000 customers have been without heat since the explosion at about 1 a.m. Saturday near Otterburne, 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

TransCanada Pipeline has begun work on a bypass around the damaged section, and the company is now telling Manitoba Hydro that gas supply could start flowing again Monday night.

The pipeline that exploded was one of two supplying the Manitoba Hydro natural gas distribution system in the area. Although only one was damaged, TransCanada had to shut off the gas supply to the second pipeline as a safety precaution in order to effect repairs to the damaged pipeline.

TransCanada plans to resume gas to the distribution system in two stages:

- The first stage will provide gas to rural municipalities north of the damaged section, including Ste. Agathe, Niverville, New Bothwell, Kleefeld, Otterbourne and Marchand.

- The second stage, approximately 12 hours later, will provide gas to the rural municipality of De Salaberry south of the damaged section including St. Malo, St. Pierre-Jolys, Grunthal and Dufrost. 

Southern Manitoba has been in the grips of bitter cold since the explosion, leaving many who rely on natural gas furnaces to find other sources of heat, such as portable electric heaters.

On Monday, cold Arctic air was making temperatures to –32 C in the communities affected by the explosion. But the extreme wind chill made it feel more like –45.

Dave Carr, who lives in Niverville, said people are doing what they can to keep warm and prevent their pipes from freezing.

He has strategically placed electric heaters to keep his pipes from freezing and to prevent his breaker from blowing, he has kept other things unplugged.

Carr said most people have been taking the outage in stride.

"It's been a perfect storm — weather, wind, cold, now this,” he said.

Crews were going to attempt repairs on the pipeline on the weekend but the extreme cold prevented them from doing so.

“So until the conditions improve, we just have to live with the conditions that we're in," said Carr, who admits he contemplated sleeping in his truck with heated seats if his home got too cold.

The majority of customers will see an immediate resumption of gas service but it could take another two days for others, Manitoba Hydro stated in a news release.

To ensure a safe and speedy restoration, Manitoba Hydro is asking all customers affected by the natural gas outage to take the following steps:

- Turn down your thermostat.

- Ensure natural gas appliances such as ovens and cooktops are turned off.

Inspectors from the Transportation Safety Board will be in Otterburne on Monday to try to determine the cause of the blast, which sent balls of flame 200 to 300 metres high, shooting out of the ground.

The fire lit up the dark sky and the explosion literally sounded like a jet plane, according to witnesses.

There were no injuries from the blast.

United Stated impacted

The affected lines also provide the main supply of natural gas to more than 100,000 Xcel Energy customers in the U.S. as well.

Gas customers in eastern North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and western Wisconsin have also been impacted by the explosion but are not without service.

Xcel Energy has asked residential and business customers in those areas to conserve natural gas by turning their thermostats down and avoiding using natural gas appliances.

Xcel Energy currently is receiving natural gas supply to serve customers in Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota; East Grand Forks, Moorhead and Brainerd in Minnesota; and communities in west-central Wisconsin, including the Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie areas, from alternate routes from Michigan and from the Twin Cities area.