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This article was published 13/10/2019 (410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ashlee Lambkin’s house is freezing cold.
It’s so cold, she can see her breath. So cold, she and her four kids haven’t been able to stay there for the last three days. So cold, that her budgies, Polly and Molly, froze to death in their cage.
Lambkin, who lives in Point Douglas, has been dealing with the aftermath of a massive October snowfall which wiped out powerlines and a significant portion of the city’s tree canopy over the past three days. Behind her house, one tree was completely knocked over, taking out a power line and rendering Lambkin’s backyard into an electrified danger zone.
She hasn’t had power for close to 70 hours, and she's been told it could take several days before her home is back on the grid.
As of about 5 p.m. Sunday, about 2,000 Winnipeg customers were as powerless as Lambkin, leading Mayor Brian Bowman to declare a city-wide state of emergency, which the mayor said would enable crews to tackle the tree wreckage, power outages, and infrastructural damage on private properties like Lambkin's more effectively and efficiently.
The costs associated with the snowfall and tree destruction have been preliminarily estimated to be "in the tens of millions," said the city's emergency response manager, Jason Shaw. And in terms of the tree canopy itself, the early assessment is that at least 30,000 city-owned trees have been impacted by the storm, with a significant portion completely felled or damaged to the point where they may need to be cut down. There is no estimate how many non-city-owned trees have been damaged, Shaw said.
Bowman, along with Premier Brian Pallister, both declared states of emergency Sunday, and the mayor said provincial and civic efforts have been coordinated and collaborative. The emergency declarations in both cases give city employees and Hydro employees increased authority to access private property to make repairs and assessments, and enable both governments to access additional support.
The mayor said that the financial burden the storm has caused and will continue to cause as clean-up occurs and more damage is assessed will be significant, and told media that he is planning on asking the province for funds to cover some of the costs. On Tuesday, Bowman will introduce a motion at the city's executive policy committee meeting requesting for disaster financial assistance from the province. He said he has already reached out to Jeff Wharton, the provincial minister responsible for Crown relations, to give the province a heads-up about the funding application.
While the province's state of emergency enables Manitoba Hydro to access assistance from neighbouring utilities in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Minnesota, Bowman said the city will look to contact other nearby cities should there be a need for more support on various clean-up fronts.
"There are significant costs and they're only expected to grow," said Bowman. "We know we're going to need some help," he added. The city's state of emergency is intended to be in effect until Nov. 12, and the recovery efforts could stretch to weeks or months, Shaw said.
Bowman said that a major reason he decided to declare the state of emergency was the increased severity of the public safety threat, as well as the threat to the integrity of the city's tree canopy. Another reason was to guard against price-fixing as cleanup-related contracts were negotiated.
Shaw, who's been running the city's emergency operations centre, reminded residents to be mindful of downed power lines, and to report them through 911. Same goes for trees touching power lines. However, Shaw also reminded residents that the city's 311 backlog is immense, and asked that people only report each incident once. He also said that residents can deposit tree debris at the Brady Road landfill or one of the Four-R depots free of charge, and reminded residents of restrictions against transporting and storing both ash and elm wood, both of which are susceptible to pests and disease. The depots and landfill are open Monday.
He said that despite the significant damage to trees and property, there were only two reports of injuries related to that damage.
But there is no disputing that the sheer immensity of the clean-up and repair efforts has resulted in lower-priority restoration being significantly delayed. Because of the amount of wreckage in public space, fallen trees on private property are the owner's responsibility, unless they're touching Hydro wiring.
And residents of the city's more mature neighbourhoods are most likely to have fallen trees, Shaw said.
That puts residents like Lambkin in a tough situation. Her house has been assessed by fire services, and she's been advised to avoid the backyard and another dangling wire. But with the repair crews working overtime across the city, she's still unable to be home.
She'd been planning on hosting a Thanksgiving dinner Monday, but for now, those plans are on hold. It's freezing cold.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.