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Frozen pipes leave hundreds without water in Winnipeg

Hundreds of Winnipeg homes are without water because of pipes left frozen by the extreme cold and the city is warning it could be weeks before the taps are flowing again.

City crews thawed Pat Dorman’s pipes last week, but two days later they were frozen again. Her home is now at the bottom of a list of almost 900 waiting for the city to restore running water.

“When we first went on there, there were less than 100 people on the list,” said the 70-year-old. “I’m kind of digging in for the long haul.”

Living in her home has become a “camping experience” as she and her husband try to make every drop of water count.

“You can’t take a shower. You sort of have to just bathe,” she said. “We’ve become conservationists in the fact that no water is being wasted.”

In addition to the almost 900 homes without water, the city has said another 5,000 homes are at risk of having their pipes freeze up.

The extreme cold this winter has forced frost to penetrate deeper into the ground than before. Even as temperatures start to rise, officials said those homes that are at risk will remain “vulnerable over the next few months.”

“This is the second coldest winter in 75 years and frost has reached a depth of approximately seven feet,” the city said in an update Sunday. “City crews are working to thaw frozen water pipes as quickly as possible. Crews are working day and night, seven days a week. All available staff and equipment resources have been assigned to this effort.”

One city councillor, Paula Havixbeck, has even appealed to municipalities across North America via Twitter, asking for thawing machines to help Winnipeg clear the backlog.

Even firefighters are being tapped. About 1,000 city firefighters have been working around the clock, helping to deliver water to those in need and checking in on about 500 homes. They have also delivered notices to 4,000 homes at risk for freezing pipes, asking residents to leave one cold water tap constantly running at a trickle.

“What we’re literally doing is going from emergency call to emergency call and, in between, stopping in at these houses,” said Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg. “We’re delivering water. We’re looking after shut-ins. We’re looking after seniors to make sure that they’re okay.”

Even though spring is around the corner, Forrest said they’ve been told the frost could seep down another 15 centimetres before it eases up. Firefighters will continue the effort “as long as it takes.”

“There’s going to be more homes with frozen pipes. We are bracing,” he said. “The situation is going to get worse before it gets better.”

With files from Steve Lambert