Extreme cold fills homeless shelters, freezes pipes and kills hundreds of car batteries

Environment Canada issued a weather warning for the region stating residents should take all necessary safety precautions as the extreme cold continues.

Social agencies are working together to help homeless as extreme cold continues

Hamilton has been under an extreme cold alert for the past seven days. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

The extreme cold that's gripped Hamilton for the past seven days has packed homeless shelters, killed hundreds of car batteries and burst pipes across the city.

City shelters are full as social agencies make a coordinated effort to ensure everyone has somewhere to stay warm during the extended cold spell.

Environment Canada issued a weather warning for the region Thursday morning stating the wind chill could make it feel like –36 overnight, so residents should take all necessary safety precautions as frostbite could develop in minutes.

The cold has kept some students with the public and Catholic school boards indoors during recess this week. It also caused delays and cancellations for GO bus and train commuters to and from Hamilton Thursday morning.

The combination of arctic air and windchill are being felt by the city's most vulnerable, according to according to Dan Miller from the Salvation Army Booth Centre, who said its 82 beds have been occupied all week.

We won't leave anybody out there. We'll find a place for them no matter what we have to do.- Dan Miller, Salvation Army Booth Centre

Staff have also been housing people in the centre's 13 overflow beds to keep them out of the elements.

"As soon as it's that cold at night we need to get everybody off the street," he explained. "We don't want anybody to lose their life on the street because of the cold."

The Salvation Army is part of a city-wide network of agencies and shelters including the Street Outreach Team, Mission Services and Good Shepherd that work together to make sure there's room for everyone to escape the extreme cold.

The organization's soup truck has also continued to tour around downtown, handing out hot drinks and sandwiches along with blankets, mittens and socks.

Working together to keep people warm

During extreme cold events the city shares the Salvation Army's 24-hour phone number 905-527-1444 Ext. 0 where people can report someone in need of shelter. So far that number has been kept busy, with plenty of calls.

"If our beds are full we call around to the other shelters and make sure as a collaboration of city teams that we can find beds for people so that they aren't staying out in the cold," said Miller.

He encouraged anyone who spots someone sleeping outside in frigid temperatures to talk to them and ask if they're willing to go to a shelter.

"Don't be afraid to do that because they're people and we want them off the street," said Miller. "We've been managing and we won't leave anybody out there. We'll find a place for them no matter what we have to do."

619 calls about frozen batteries

CAA's roadside assistance crews have also stayed busy during the extreme cold snap.

Public relations manager Kaitlynn Furse said there were a total of 1,496 calls for service in Hamilton between Sunday and Wednesday alone, with 619 of those for dead batteries.

Here's how CAA says the cold affects vehicles:

  • Cold tires: The cold can cause tires to under-inflate which can lead to stability and handling issues and increase the risk of getting a flat.
  • Dead battery: When the temperature drops below freezing a weak battery loses 35 per cent of its power.
  • Thick fluids: Oil and other fluids can thicken in the cold so check them regularly.
  • Cracked wipers: Remove all ice and snow before turning on your wipers so they won't break or fray.

Warning signs your battery might be about to die:

  • Your vehicle cranks slowly when trying to start.
  • There's a grinding, clicking or buzzing noise when you turn on the ignition.
  • Your vehicle stalls.
  • Your headlights dim when idling, but brighten back up when you rev the engine.

Dozens of frozen pipes

As the temperature dipped this week the number of calls to the City of Hamilton about frozen pipes went through the roof.

In the past 24 hours alone, Hamilton Water received almost 100 calls about issues on private property, according to a statement from staff.

A skater braving the frigid weather flashes a thumbs up while hitting the ice at the Pier 8 outdoor rink Wednesday afternoon. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Issues are popping up across the city and seem to be arising from unheated or uninsulated rooms, garages and crawl spaces.

The city is continuing to monitor frost depth and says at this point there's no risk the public sections of the water service will freeze.

Here's what the city suggests you do if your pipes are frozen:

  • Turn on a tap in the basement. If you've successfully thawed your pipes, water should begin flowing.
  • Find the water shut-off valve in your home. If the pipe you're trying to thaw bursts, or you successfully manage to thaw it, the pipe could still leak and potentially cause a flood. If that happens you need to shut off the water to your house using the shut-off valve until the leaky pipe is fixed.
  • Use a blow dryer or space heater to warm the exposed pipe near the water meter for one or two hours. You can also try wrapping a warm towel around the pipe. Do not use an open flame because it risks bursting pipes, causing the pipe joints to come apart or even setting your house on fire.

To learn more about preventing frozen pipes click here.