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N.B. Housing resident in Blacks Harbour 'disgusted' after seniors went days without water

Some residents at an N.B. Housing seniors' complex in Blacks Harbour went four days without water after a water main broke. (Submitted by Terry James - image credit)
Some residents at an N.B. Housing seniors' complex in Blacks Harbour went four days without water after a water main broke. (Submitted by Terry James - image credit)

A resident of an N.B. Housing seniors' complex in Blacks Harbour is demanding answers and an apology after she and eight other residents in her building were left without water for nearly four days.

Terry James said the water stopped running last Thursday morning after a water main broke, and it wasn't repaired until Monday.

She describes those days as "hell," and said residents heard nothing from the housing corporation while they waited — unable to flush their toilets, clean, shower or cook.

"No communication, none from your landlord telling you what's going on, what they're doing," James said.

Seniors living at an N.B. Housing complex in Blacks Harbour were without water for four days after a water main broke.
Seniors living at an N.B. Housing complex in Blacks Harbour were without water for four days after a water main broke.

James says it's infuriating that it took four days to get the water main repaired — a fix that took workers only three hours on Monday. (Submitted by Terry James)

"They just left you to fend for yourself to the point where you have to get hold of your mayor and get hold of your MLA and explain the situation two or three times, trying to get people to help," she said.

James said it was even more infuriating that after four days without water, it took crews only three hours to fix the repair when they arrived on Monday morning.

"I'm disgusted with the whole situation," James said.

"Anyone can understand a broken water line. Most people would tolerate easily 24 to 48 hours [of waiting]. At the end of 48 hours though, you start questioning what the hell's going on."

John Craig, mayor of Eastern Charlotte, said that to him, the crisis sent a message that the province "didn't care" about the seniors in the complex.
John Craig, mayor of Eastern Charlotte, said that to him, the crisis sent a message that the province "didn't care" about the seniors in the complex.

John Craig, mayor of Eastern Charlotte, said that to him, the crisis sent a message that the province 'didn't care' about the seniors in the complex. (Radio-Canada)

Eastern Charlotte Mayor John Craig said the responsibility to fix the water main fell to N.B. Housing.

"To me, it sent a message that the province didn't care," Craig said, explaining the pipe that failed belonged to the housing corporation, not the municipality.

Residents left with porta-potties, bottled water 

James said she called N.B. Housing after 24 hours with no water and was given no clear status or repair timeline, but she was told there was a "Plan B."

"Mid- [Saturday] morning, the Plan B arrived," James said. "Two beautiful new shiny red outhouses. Planted right beside the lobby doors."

Terry James says that outhouses were delivered to the building over 24 hours after the water main broke, and that many seniors refused to use them during the weekend storm.
Terry James says that outhouses were delivered to the building over 24 hours after the water main broke, and that many seniors refused to use them during the weekend storm.

More than 24 hours after losing water, James says two porta-potties were delivered for the seniors to use through a weekend of rain, wind and freezing rain. (Submitted by Terry James)

She said residents were forced to use the outhouses through a weekend of rain, wind and freezing rain — something many of the elderly seniors were unable to do. 

"You will never meet someone as happy as I was to see that rain," she said.

"I collected eight buckets of rainwater and I flushed and I cleaned my toilet," she said.

'Like a slap in the face,' says mayor

Each unit also received a case of small water bottles on Friday and a large water jug on Saturday.

Terry James says that the housing corporation provided each unit with a "24 pack" of water bottles the day after the water main break.
Terry James says that the housing corporation provided each unit with a "24 pack" of water bottles the day after the water main break.

Terry James says the housing corporation gave each unit with a 24-pack of water bottles the day after the water main break. (Submitted by Terry James )

"I said, 'Jeez man, that's like a slap in the face,'" said Craig.

"These residents are all seniors. You couldn't expect them to go outside and use these porta-potties during a storm."

"One of those big jugs of water would just fill up the back of your flush tank probably once. So, come Sunday, they were basically out of water again. So I tried calling again and they wouldn't bring down any more water on Sunday."

On Sunday, Craig and municipal council members refilled the water jugs for residents at the Eastern Charlotte fire hall.

"They showed up and saved us really, because [N.B.] Housing had refused to provide any more water," James said.

Each unit in the building received two water jugs which were empty by Sunday. Mayor John Craig says municipality representatives used the Eastern Charlotte Fire Hall to refill the jugs for residents.
Each unit in the building received two water jugs which were empty by Sunday. Mayor John Craig says municipality representatives used the Eastern Charlotte Fire Hall to refill the jugs for residents.

Each unit in the building also received two water jugs which were empty by Sunday. Craig says he and municipal council members refilled the jugs for residents at the Eastern Charlotte fire hall. (Submitted by Terry James)

When workers arrived Monday, James said she asked them why there had been a four-day delay.

While James wouldn't identify the workers fixing the water main she said the reason they gave her and other residents shocked her.

"They said that [N.B. Housing] wouldn't pay time and a half on the weekend. I said, 'OK, that's on the weekend, but what about Friday?' And he said they didn't have the pipes," James said.

No reason given for delay

Social Development Minister Jill Green was not made available for an interview. And in an emailed statement to CBC News, Green did not answer questions about why it took four days for the water main to be repaired, or whether overtime pay was a factor in the delay.

The statement read: "I'm pleased water has been restored to the building and would like to thank crews who were on-site over the weekend working to repair the water main damage, as well as Housing N.B. staff who provided support and supplies to residents."

The building was still under a boil water order until Wednesday evening.

James said she's still waiting for an explanation and an apology.