Storm wreaks havoc in northwestern Saskatchewan

by Phil Ambroziak

The Northern Village of Buffalo Narrows felt the brunt of a recent outburst by Mother Nature, as rain and high winds of more than 100 km-h caused much damage and left the community without power for more than two days.

According to Tyler Hopson, media relations officer with SaskPower, the outage was initially reported Sept. 11 around 7:30 a.m.

“That’s when the first report came in, but it gets a little complicated from there because, at different times, the power would be restored only for the storm to knock it back out again,” Hopson said.

While surrounding communities such as La Loche, Ile-a-la Crosse and Beauval also experienced the fury of the storm, the resulting damage was less severe than in Buffalo Narrows where downed trees and power lines were reported throughout the village.

“I saw a few trees uprooted and a number of trees cracked over between Ile-a-la Crosse and Buffalo Narrows,” explained Ile-a-la Crosse RCMP Const. Shane Chafe. “These were probably the worst weather conditions experienced here in several years.”

SaskPower officials confirmed power was eventually restored to Buffalo Narrows and other areas by 12 noon on Sept. 13.

“The main lines were pretty much back up by then, perhaps with the exception of a few smaller lines,” Hopson said.

While damage was severe, injuries were few. In spite of this, Buffalo Narrows mayor Bobby Woods said it’s important for the community to take steps to better address similar situations if and when they occur again.

“An emergency centre was opened at the clinic, but this storm shows how important it is to have a reliable emergency plan in place,” Woods said. “It’s too bad we had to go through it, but it makes you empathize with people in other parts of the world who’ve experienced hurricanes and other such disasters.”

While Woods was in Regina at the time of the storm, he remained in regular contact with fellow council members in case there was a need to declare a state of emergency.

“Thank God it didn’t get that far,” he said. “As far as I know, no one was seriously hurt.”

Chafe reiterated how the storm’s impact was also felt in other parts of northwestern Saskatchewan.

“As far as calls for service, we didn’t receive any that were too extraneous,” he said. “There was one call involving a 16-foot aluminum boat, which was tied up, blowing away and crashing on the rocks about 200-300 metres away.”

Chafe also said the Ile-a-la Crosse village office, as well as close to 10 residences, also experienced flooding because of sewers backing up.

“A power line also came down, resulting in us closing off the road until SaskPower could get the problem cleared up,” he noted.

Back at Buffalo Narrows, Twin Lakes school, as well as many stores and businesses, were closed to the public.

“It certainly impacted sales because we had to close the store,” remarked Calvin Daigneault, manager of the Northern Store in Buffalo Narrows. “I’d also say we had to throw away about $2,000 to $3,000 worth of merchandise. We kept our freezers closed and it was still cold enough in there to keep the stuff inside frozen, but many of the items on display had to go.”

Valleyview School in Beauval also had to temporarily shut down because of the storm.

“Buffalo Narrows was impacted the most, but power was out here from about 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday (Sept. 10),” said principal Arlene Hansen.

“We had to send the students home on Monday and they didn’t return until the next day. The reason we did this was primarily the safety of the children.

When the power is off, there is no water. Even though we had adequate lighting in the classrooms, there was the risk of running out of water.”

Fortunately, there were few blips for area hospitals and medical clinics to overcome thanks to the level of emergency preparedness exhibited by the Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority.

“We were able to maintain services because most of our facilities have a backup power system,” explained health authority CEO Richard Petit. “We did not have to discharge anyone. The biggest problem was communication because we obviously had no access to the Internet. We could, however, use cell phones, which worked out quite well.”

Meanwhile, Woods said there is much cleanup to take place throughout his community and the entire region.

“I want to thank the people of the community for supporting each other and for taking action,” he said. “People are still coming together to help out.”

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