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2015 01 explosion(Photo by Ken Peters)

Many residents of southern Manitoba may remember what life was like exactly one year ago as they sat in the cold in their houses.

On January 25th, 2014, nearly four thousand residents were without gas service after an explosion along the TransCanada Corporation natural gas pipeline between Otterburne and Highway 59. Hanover Emergency Coordinator Denis Vassart says the explosion happened in the early morning hours and it was shortly before lunch when a Hydro spokesperson warned him that things were about to get crazy for his Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) team.

"My first recollection is that I actually saw it on steinbachonline.com," recalls Vassart who says he slept through the sound of the explosion. "About eleven o'clock I got a call from (Manitoba Hydro's) regional manager here and I said to him 'I guess you've been pretty busy this morning.' He said 'yes, and you're going to get pretty busy this afternoon.' That was my first indication that we had something coming at us."

But Vassart admits the initial indication was that it was a pipe feeding south into the United States and that there might be only a few pockets in Canada without gas service. But that was not the case. By about one o'clock that afternoon, the decision was made to call in the rest of the EOC team. And Vassart says over the course of the next three days they would come to realize that years of training were worth it.

"Having done a few exercises and having worked together a little bit it was great because we were able to bounce ideas off each other and say, 'well what about this, what about that,' it was a team effort of keeping everything going and trying to keep the public informed as much as we could and that type of stuff and it worked out reasonably well," recalls Vassart. "We didn't hear anybody that was unhappy with the way we handled things."

The gas outage lasted approximately three days. Vassart notes in hindsight there isn't a whole lot he would have done differently. But he says the overall experience has enhanced their preparedness.

"We've made changes to our Emergency Plan in how we set up things," he says. "We've added things in our Hazard Analysis that weren't there before, it wasn't one of the things that we thought of as having a huge impact on us."

Vassart admits because of the resiliency of Manitobans and the help of his EOC team, he didn't feel a huge weight on his shoulders during those three days. He notes when you have that number of homes and businesses that rely on gas to heat, there will always be pressure. But he adds Manitoba Hydro was good to work with, they received backup from the provincial Emergency Measures Organization and TransCanada PipeLines was there to offer advice.

Vassart says an event like this should serve as a reminder that all of us need an emergency kit or the resources necessary in our homes to ensure we can survive a minimum of 72 hours without help.

Meanwhile, as of December, a spokesperson for TransCanada PipeLines admitted they still do not know the cause of the explosion.

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