Downtown high-rise residents without power, water await answers on repairs
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2019 9:44AM EST Last Updated Wednesday, January 23, 2019 9:48PM EST
Gathered at a public meeting on Wednesday night, residents living without water or electricity for more than 24 hours at a St. James Town highrise were told by officials that the matter is an “incomplete story.”
Power was cut at 260 Wellesley Street East on Tuesday afternoon after a burst pipe caused flooding in the building’s electrical room.
“These are unbelievably trying circumstances that people are facing,” Mayor John Tory told the concerned residents at the meeting. “It is better for us to be able to get all the facts before we are able to tell you exactly what is going to happen in terms of time.”
“Everybody is trying really hard.”
Toronto Fire deemed the building unsafe for use of both electricity and generators. However, an evacuation order was not issued, leaving the estimated 1,000 residents of the 33-storey building unsure about whether to stay or go.
At the meeting, Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop told residents they are safe inside the building as crews work through the problem.
“As this has been an electrical and water issue I can unfortunately not tell you in terms of the cause of what happened,” Jessop said. “I have no idea at this point and it’s not under our authority at this point to investigate because it wasn’t a fire so unfortunately if you are looking for answers as to what caused this I can’t provide that right now.”
“Right now we have wellness checks going on, we have 24-hour fire watch by private security that the owners have complied with and you also have seen our Toronto firefighters on scene 24/7 throughout the building doing their job.”
Jessop told residents he would not allow them to stay in the building if he deemed it to be a risk in any such way.
While no timeline has been given for the restoration of heat and water, a spokesperson for the property owner did tell reporters on Wednesday that the building will remain in the dark tonight.
“We are working in the electrical room right now to figure out how much damage was sustained in the flood,” Danny Roth said. “These are mechanical issues that take time to deal with. It is not for a lack of trying or a lack of will.”
Roth said that there are currently about 50 security guards on shifts that are conducting fire watches inside 260 Wellesley and assisting tenants.
He conceded that the conditions inside the building are difficult but said that the building’s owners are doing “everything in their power to bring to bear the necessary resources” to get the building back online as soon as possible.
As for tenants who may wish to seek alternative accommodations, he said that the Red Cross has been in contact with a number of area hotels where preferred rates will be available to displaced residents.
“This is a time right now when tenants should absolutely be speaking to their insurers,” he said.
Issues also reported at 240 Wellesley East
In addition to the issues at 260 Wellesley Street East, Roth also confirmed that a building managed by the same company at 240 Wellesley Street East has been experiencing water problems as a result of a frozen pipe.
He said that right now that building is without cold water but continues to have hot water, as there are two separate plumbing systems.
“We have brought the resources in to address this as quickly as possible. Not as quickly as the tenants would like but as quickly as we can,” he said.
Residents unsure where to go
The Wellesley Community Centre, where tonight’s meeting will took place, has been converted into a temporary warming centre where residents of 260 Wellesely Street East can seek respite from the cold or pick up water and food.
Meanwhile, other residents have chosen to leave the building completely.
Susmina Dahal is pregnant and caring for a seven-year-old daughter. She said the condition of the building left her no choice but to leave.
“We are preparing ourselves. We are going to our friend’s house,” Dahal said. “We have no idea how long it’s going to take. It’s horrible.”
On Wednesday morning, residents could be seen hauling jugs and even buckets of water into the building.
Mohammed Daoud said the last 24 hours have been distressing for his young family.
“It was the worst night ever… We have no place to go. We can’t afford a hotel room,” he said.
“I’m scared. I’m scared about my baby. He’s one year old. Where can I go with my baby? What can I do? If you were me, what would you do? Are you going to bring your baby outside in the snow or are you going to go upstairs with no heat, no hydro, no water, nothing?”
Vijay Bang and his family decided to stay in their top floor unit. He said without a working elevator, getting up to the 33rd floor has been trying.
“Without water, it is a disaster. You don’t have water for drinking, for washing,” he said.
“We can live without the power, we can live without the heat, but no water is unacceptable.”
Bang also criticized building management for what he says was a lack of communication about the situation as it was unfolding.
“They should’ve issued a notice or communicated properly. I was coming from work, I had no idea, I wasn’t anticipating this kind of disaster,” he said. “They have all our contact numbers. If something like this happens, they should let us know so we can start looking for another place.”
According to property management, disruption to water and hydro is expected to last for at least 48 hours.
The extent of the damage caused by the burst pipe is still being examined.
“I have no idea yet what the extent of the damage is going to be or how long we’re going to be in this state,” Roth said. “I can say we have a lot of work to do over the next day, day and a half. We’ll have a better sense of where we are once that work has been completed.”
The 550-unit Wellesley Street building is managed by the same company responsible for 650 Parliament, which became unlivable back in August 2018 after a massive electrical fire.
The fire left 1,500 people displaced and residents have yet to be allowed back.
About 26 people living at the powerless Wellesley Street building used to live at 650 Parliament.
“My heart goes out to displaced 650 Parliament residents who may be staying at 260 Wellesley East, who may be reliving trauma,” Ward 13 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote on Twitter.
“I was asked by a 650 Parliament tenant (temporarily staying at 260 Wellesley East) how quickly the power will be restored to her ‘new’ home. Question from a mother of four with her youngest being a month old, nearly broke my heart.”
Tory said a meeting was held Wednesday morning between the city, fire officials and building management where they heard an “incomplete update” on the repairs.
“Our objective by the end of the day is to be able to communicate to tenants what the reality is of the repairs, what the plan is to deal with it, and to say to those who can’t find accommodations with friends or family that this is the plan that we have,” he said.
“I hope much of that will not be in community centres because of the fact those centres have many other purposes. But we’re going to look at whatever we have to look at to make sure people are safe and accommodated.”
Tory said the landlord has ordered parts for a “work around” repair, but a timeline for when something like that could be implemented has not been finalized.
He said a “series of meetings” will be held throughout the day before residents are provided an official update.
In the meantime, the city has asked for a confirmed list of the number of residents in the building to help prepare for the possibility of an evacuation.
“We view the well-being of these tenants as being their (building management) responsibility, but we are going to back them up and support them,” Tory said.
“We’re going to make sure they do it… We will be checking on them minute by minute.”