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Winter wallop knocks out power for thousands in southern Alberta Add to ...

Tens of thousands of people were without power Wednesday as winter returned to wallop southern Alberta with heavy wet snow and whipping winds.

The mayor of Lethbridge advised 90,000 residents to stay put and wait out a widespread outage that enveloped much of the city and surrounding communities.

Bob Tarleck also asked everyone to leave the streets free for emergency vehicles and to conserve water as much as possible.

"We are in emergency response mode. The schools are closed. The college is closed. The hospital is operating on emergency power, so they're not doing any elective surgery," he said.

"We're just hunkering down and we'll try to wait this out."

Mr. Tarleck said the city has reserve water supplies, but wouldn't be able to process any new water from the river until the power came back on.

"Don't wash dishes, especially with a dishwasher. Don't wash your clothes. Put off a shower or a bath for a day," he said. "We need to reduce water consumption to the absolute minimum."

Mr. Tarleck said the problem was with an AltaLink line that provides power for most of southeastern Alberta. The company couldn't give an estimate on when power would return, although a few parts of the city did have some power, he said.

The spring storm roared in with a vengeance late Tuesday afternoon. Snow continued to fall overnight and by morning many people had to abandon their vehicles as they became bogged down in drifts as deep as 30 centimetres. A major highway in the area was also shut down.

The power started flickering around 1 a.m. and went out entirely about 7 a.m.

Much of the city had shut down. Mr. Tarleck sent most people home from city hall. Many businesses did the same and schools called parents to come pick up their children.

The storm, which appeared to be moving into Saskatchewan, raised concerns about flooding because warm temperatures expected by the weekend could cause the snow to melt quickly. Mr. Tarleck asked citizens to clean out catch basins to make sure water had somewhere to drain.

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