Winnipeg homeowners looking for answers after cement backs up into houses through sewer

Fraser Jack’s living room armchair is now cemented to his floor, along with his vacuum.

He’s one of several homeowners in the north Winnipeg Scotia Heights area dealing with the aftermath of a sewer backup of wet cement and looking for answers from the city.

Jack was working out of town on Saturday when the incident happened. His father phoned him with the news, after checking on his home.

“It essentially came out of the toilet, spewing out of there,” Jack said. “It also filled up all the drain pipes, filling a quarter of my tub.”

The cement mixture, a few inches thick, spread down a hallway into two bedrooms, his living room and main-floor washroom. It covered a large area of his basement and even spewed out of a drain on the side of his house, covering a path outside.

Hardened cement coats Jack’s bathroom. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The extent of the damage is still unknown.

“It’s been tragic and just a head-shaker,” he said.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg says the issue stemmed from construction work at the corner of Semple Avenue and Scotia Street on May 29.

A contractor was hired by the city to work on a new land drainage sewer trunk shaft at the intersection. The crew was “grouting the trunk shaft when a breach of the combined sewer occurred,” the spokesperson said, adding the mixture flowed into the sewer pipes of 12 homes.

Cause under investigation: city

Crews have cleared the main sewer line and the cause of the breach is still under investigation.

Kaitlin Bialek was home Saturday when the cement mixture came pouring into her home’s basement and covered the floor.

“It was, like, bubbling out,” she said. “Almost how you would envision a volcano.”

Kaitlin Bialek isn’t happy with the city’s response to the influx of cement she experienced on Saturday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Bialek said she and her husband phoned the city’s 311 line, alerted construction crews and went door-to-door to warn other neighbours.

The crew stopped the flow of concrete, but she said she is disappointed in the city’s response. It took hours for city workers to arrive, she says.

“When this all happened they should have had people here, they should have hired every restoration company they could find to help all these people,” she said. “We shouldn’t have had to handle this ourselves.”

The cement covered much of Jack’s basement. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Jack said he is also disappointed by the city’s response.

“I was hoping they would be around a little bit more to answer questions and give us some answers,” he said, adding the biggest frustration right now is taking time off work to deal with the damage.  

Go through insurance first, city says

The city’s spokesperson said homeowners should contact their insurance providers for advice on damage and losses.

Following that, “if a resident believes the city, or a contractor working on the city’s behalf, is responsible, they may choose to submit a claim to the city,” the spokesperson said.

The cement spread down Jack’s hallway into two bedrooms, the living room and main-floor washroom. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Back at Jack’s home, cleanup crews will be on site Friday to deal with the mess. His insurance will cover the damage to the house, but not the contents, he said.

“I would be covered if it was fire, or flood, or an act of God,” he said. “To which I stated, ‘I didn’t know there was a box I could tick off for cement coming back into my house from my sewer.'”

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