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Katz recommits to temporary water service in 24 hours for residents with frozen lines

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Some properties in the city have waited more than a month to have their pipes thawed.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Some properties in the city have waited more than a month to have their pipes thawed.

City officials are unable to explain why 311 operators have been giving confusing messages about the frozen water line situation — but at least two frozen-out residents are happier now that they have water from a neighbour.

Laresa Sayles in Norwood Flats and Francis DeCorte in St. James were looking at a one- to three-week delay to get temporary water services to their homes — until their plight was detailed in a Free Press story Friday.

"I got a call from the city right after the story appeared," Sayles said, echoing the reaction DeCorte also experienced.

Sayles and DeCorte were upset that they were facing a long wait for a temporary water line, despite a pledge from Mayor Sam Katz the day before that the service would be provided in 24 hours.

Now, both Sayles and DeCorte will be getting temporary water service on Saturday via a hose connected to a neighbour’s home.

"I’m just glad I won’t be giving birth in a snow bank," said Sayles, who is 33 weeks pregnant.

"I won’t be facing daily trips to my Tim’s to use their bathroom and then the community centre to shower," DeCorte said.

But both questioned why the city responded so quickly to their situation when hundreds of others are without water services.

"What about the other 770 households," Sayles said. "This is not just about us. This has become a crisis."

DeCorte said a firefighter who brought him two jugs of water Friday afternoon said he had just delivered water to a woman who had been without water services for three weeks.

"This was just inconvenient for me, but how much longer does she have to wait," DeCorte said.

Mayor vows to sort out confusion

Mayor Katz said he could not explain why 311 operators were telling residents as late as Friday morning that requests for temporary water connections would be delayed anywhere from one to three weeks.

"Days and days should be what it takes to thaw the line, not to do (the temporary connection)," Katz said Friday afternoon, vowing that he would sort out the confusion at city hall.

"It was clearly a miscommunication," with the 311 operators, said Steve West, the city’s manager of corporate communications.

West said there was no queue-jumping for DeCorte and Sayles, adding the city’s commitment is to provide temporary water service within 24 hours and that is what has occurred.

Meanwhile, city officials said the number of properties without water services due to frozen pipes had climbed to 778 — an additional 56 homes from Thursday, and a total of 240 additional properties this week.

Firefighters deliver drinking water

Firefighters began delivering potable water in 20-litre jugs to some of those homes Friday.

City officials said firefighters are doing the deliveries during their down time between emergency calls.

"Firefighters help the public and this is just part of doing that," Alex Forrest, president of the firefighters’ union, said. "These jugs weight 50 pounds each and you can’t expect seniors to handle that."

It was expected that more than 200 jugs would be delivered by firefighters by the end of day Friday.

Forrest said he’s been told that the cold weather has also been impacting fire hydrants, adding that more seem to be frozen this winter than in previous years.

"We had frozen hydrants at two fires Thursday night and again earlier in the week," Forrest said. "I’ve never heard of that happening in the 25 years I’ve been firefighting — normally it’s just one frozen hydrant every month."

Chamber of Commerce president Dave Angus said he’s concerned that the situation is impacting the business community.

"Right now, it appears to be affecting only an isolated number of businesses but even for them this is a problem," Angus said. "We can’t overlook the financial challenge this kind of situation places on business, especially small business."

History

Updated on Friday, March 7, 2014 at 3:31 PM CST: Adds comment from mayor.

4:05 PM: Adds fire department sidebar; new number of properties affected.

5:57 PM: Adds new comment from mayor, city.

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