Calgarians have dealt with floods, wind storms and a crippling September snowfall. Now they can add a downtown power outage to their list of unforeseen calamities.
What began as an underground fire Saturday night set off an explosion that knocked out electricity for the roughly 2,100 businesses and 5,000 people who live in the inner city’s west end.
The affected area encompasses 18 square blocks and includes the high-rise offices for Nexen and AMEC, the engineering firm, as well as the McDougall Centre, the southern headquarters for the Alberta government.
Enmax, the city’s utility company, issued a statement Sunday that called the damage extensive, “completely destroying the electrical infrastructure involved.”
The fire also burned fibre optic cable, which could lead to additional problems and delays.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and other officials told a press conference Sunday that it could be Wednesday at the earliest before power can be restored, and the wait could be as long as Saturday for others.
“It will not be possible early this week for there to be business as usual in those affected areas,” Mr. Nenshi said.
“There will be major disruptions to the affected area until the infrastructure is rebuilt.”
Enmax said it is too early to estimate what it will cost to make things right.
While city workers continued their investigation into what caused the fire, businesses in the area discussed how to re-open soon. A spokesperson for Nexen Energy (now owned by China’s CNOOC Ltd.) said by e-mail that it had “comprehensive back-up systems for both information technology and power.” Scott Long, the executive director of operations for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said some of the energy department staff will work in other offices.
Alberta Justice tweeted that it was still assessing how services would be affected at its courthouse, which is in the zone without power.
Mr. Nenshi spoke on Sunday with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and Municipal Affairs Minister Diana McQueen, bringing up the possibility of disaster assistance. That will be discussed later when the province finalizes its assistance for the September snow storm.
“Right now, our job is to keep people safe and get us back to normal as quickly as possible,” Mr. Nenshi said.
“But me being me, I did point out to both the Premier and the minister that we’ll have to talk about money at some point.”
Many displaced residents made their way to the Mewata Armoury, where the Calgary Emergency Management Agency co-ordinated relief for residents forced out of their apartments.
Officials from the fire department conducted a floor-by-floor sweep of those apartments in search of stranded residents.
Keese Ng was returning home to his downtown condo Saturday night when he saw a police barricade and figured there had been a car accident. When he saw smoke billowing from a manhole on the street, he knew something entirely different had gone wrong.
“Our condo rep hadn’t got there yet so there was no official evacuation,” said Mr. Ng, who took his building’s elevator to the 17th floor, packed some clothes then took the stairs down to street level.
“My parents live on the 22nd floor here so we both had to leave.”
Power generators ensured some traffic lights were working while the police kept the area clear for those who needed to access their apartment then find another place to stay.
“It’s not fun, to be honest,” said Syed Hussaini. He was loading two large suitcases into a sedan and said he would spend the evening at a friend’s place in the city’s northwest.
In a nearby building, Navjeet Tiwana said he lost power at 10:30 p.m. Saturday while making a pie, “which obviously didn’t go well.”
As for restaurant owners, Jonas Janos explained he arrived at his establishment before 6 a.m. Sunday to transfer food from his downtown kitchen so it would not spoil.
“At home, I have power, fortunately,” he said.
Enmax will bring customers back onto the power grid one at a time. Mr. Nenshi advised residents to unplug all electrical appliances in preparation for a power surge.
With files from Jeff Jones and Jeff Lewis in Calgary