03/10/2014 01:29 EDT | Updated 05/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Frozen pipes leave hundreds without water, thousands of homes at risk

WINNIPEG - Hundreds of Winnipeg homes are without water because of pipes frozen by the extreme cold and the city is warning it could be weeks before the taps are flowing again.

City crews thawed Pat Dorman's pipes last week, but two days later they were frozen again. Her home is now at the bottom of a list of just over 900 waiting for the city to restore running water.

The wait is estimated between 12 to 17 days.

"When we first went on there, there were less than 100 people on the list," said the 70-year-old. "I'm kind of digging in for the long haul."

Living in her home has become a "camping experience" as she and her husband try to make every drop of water count.

"You can't take a shower. You sort of have to just bathe," she said. "We've become conservationists in the fact that no water is being wasted."

The city said Monday there were 927 homes with frozen pipes but 217 have been hooked up with temporary hose lines. Another 5,000 homes are at risk of having their pipes freeze.

The extreme cold this winter has forced frost to penetrate deeper into the ground than before. The city said this is the second-coldest winter in 75 years and frost has drilled down just over two metres.

Even as temperatures start to rise, it's not a problem that will go away quickly, officials said .

"It will be dependent on Mother Nature," said Randy Hull, Winnipeg's emergency preparedness co-ordinator. "But don't be fooled by the warm temperatures that will come in the weeks ahead. We'll actually still have this frost issue well into the month of April, likely into May and isolated situations into June."

Mayor Sam Katz said the extreme cold, combined with crumbling infrastructure, has created the emergency. Crews are working as fast as they can to restore water, he said.

"Basically they are going 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Katz said. "Is it challenging? Yes, but they're making it work."

Katz said he didn't know how much the crisis is costing the city.

One city councillor, Paula Havixbeck, appealed publicly on Twitter on Monday to municipalities across North America, asking for thawing machines to help Winnipeg clear the backlog.

That call was put out formally — across Canada and down to New York — a while ago, Katz said.

"Our administration has talked to administrations in many other cities, both in Canada and the U.S." he said. "Right now, there is nothing out there."

Even city fire crews are being tapped. About 1,000 firefighters have been working around the clock to help deliver water to those in need and to check on about 500 homes. They have also delivered notices to 4,000 homes at risk, asking residents to leave one cold water tap constantly running at a trickle.

"What we're literally doing is going from emergency call to emergency call and, in between, stopping in at these houses," said Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg. "We're delivering water. We're looking after shut-ins. We're looking after seniors to make sure that they're OK."

Even though spring is around the corner, Forrest said they've been told the frost could seep down another 15 centimetres before it eases. Firefighters will continue the effort "as long as it takes."

"There's going to be more homes with frozen pipes. We are bracing," he said. "The situation is going to get worse before it gets better."

— With files from Steve Lambert