Dangerously frigid weather numbs Manitoba

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Dangerously frigid weather numbs Manitoba

Standing outside Winnipeg's Salvation Army Booth Centre in a light coat and runners with holes in the soles, Kelvin Johnston says he thinks this is the worst winter he's experienced since becoming homeless eight years ago.

"I go to the … skywalk downtown — hopefully it's open," the 51-year-old said Wednesday. "Any building that's open, just praying that I can get in, get warm for a while. It's hard living on the streets."

He's hoping to find warmer clothes to replace what he's been wearing for the past four months, but he said he's not having much luck.

"People need long johns. We need coats, we need boots. Everybody needs socks," he said.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg was already days into a frigid cold snap.

An alarmingly cold Arctic air mass is entrenched over Manitoba, delivering temperatures close to –40 C in the north and and around –30 C in the south.

Add in the wind chill, though, and it feels more like –50 up in Churchill and closer to –40 in the southern half of the province.

The extreme temperatures cause concern for Victoria Huntrods, 20, who hoped to sleep at the Salvation Army centre Wednesday night. She's been homeless for two years and she's scared of what could happen if she doesn't find a warm bed.

"People always come here, especially over the holidays, people feel a lot more giving in their heart. But the cold doesn't stop after Christmas stops," she said.

Despite the biting cold, Johnston and Huntrods said they have found a giving community among the people who use the shelter.

"[Some people] don't give themselves a chance to get to know you," Johnston said. "If they got to know the people down here, they'd find that everybody has a warm heart for everybody."

No heat for some residents of Winnipeg apartment

In southern Manitoba, cloud and some light snow are expected to move in Wednesday evening and into Thursday, so the wind chill values, which first arrived on Christmas Eve, will not be as extreme — at least for a day.

Another push of Arctic air is poised to sweep into southern Manitoba by Friday and last through the weekend with extreme wind chill values likely again, according to Environment Canada.

The weather agency is urging people to consider the following advice:

- Dress warmly, in layers that you can remove if you get too warm. The outer layer should be wind resistant.

- Cover up. Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially with wind chill.

- Outdoor workers should take regularly scheduled breaks to warm up.

- Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle such as extra blankets and jumper cables.

- If it's too cold for you to stay outside, it's too cold for your pet to stay outside.

Cold temperatures aren't only a problem outside. Maria Dacosta Moreda and her neighbours have been fending them off in their apartments at 33 Hargrave Street since one of the building's two boilers broke.

On Christmas night, Maria Da Costa Moreda and her husband had to drag their bed and blankets into the living room because their bedroom was so cold. They bought a space heater to help out, but that night was difficult, she said.

"It's insane. We have to be with jackets on and blankets. I put my blanket inside of the microwave because I was so cold," she said.

The building's landlord, Timbercreek Communities, admits the situation isn't ideal, but said heat is actually back on, and will take time to circulate throughout the building.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg told CBC News the city has been monitoring the situation.

But Da Costa Moreda wasn't impressed with how it was handled.

"I'm really upset. It's Christmas, supposed to be happy. People [are] supposed to help each other. And I feel totally the opposite," she said.

10-hour waits for a boost: CAA

When the temperature gets this cold, the phone lines to CAA Manitoba heat up.

The association helped out 1,600 people in Winnipeg on Tuesday — mostly with boosts to frosty batteries — and went to the aid of 100 more in other parts of the province. By late Wednesday afternoon, around 1,100 calls had come in. 

Some drivers in need of a boost are waiting as many as 12 hours, CAA told CBC News Wednesday afternoon.

Dana Mohr said she called for roadside assistance around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, and didn't get a tow until Wednesday afternoon — despite being provided a wait time of two to four hours. She was later told there had been a mix-up.

"They should have extra people on. This has happened twice, and the wait times are astronomical. And the sheer incompetence that I had to go through this much effort to get someone out," she said.

​"We anticipate that we're on track to serve just as many today, especially because we know it's the first day back to work for a lot of people," said CAA spokesperson Erika Miller.

"Cold weather is something we see every year, and our drivers absolutely love cold weather. They love helping people," Miller said.

Her No. 1 piece of advice is to plug in your car. It's the easiest way to help keep the internal components of your vehicle warm, she said.

She recommended keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle all year round, including food, water, candles and blankets, plus hand-warmers, tuques and parkas in the winter.

Salvation Army's Major Rob Kerr said the Extreme Environment Response Vehicle — a retrofitted former ambulance — has been dispatched each night of the extreme cold, from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. Staff use it to bring homeless people to the shelter or to give them temporary respite.

Among those picked up last night were a mom and infant, he said.

"Sadly, there are people out there [in this cold] and there's people who need help," Kerr said.

"We're happy when we can find those people and give them help and we can get them either off the street and somewhere safe, or get them the attention that they need."

Although the shelter's beds were full, no one was turned away. Makeshift sleeping spaces were made up with mats on the floor.

Kerr estimated there were more than 50 people who spent the night at the shelter's Booth Centre, while Siloam Mission had 110 people stay at their shelter on Princess Street last night.

"We'd rather have them on the floor in our building than on the concrete out on the street," he said.