'It was awful': Senior trapped inside for 3 days after winter weather wallops Winnipeg

For three days, Mike Murphy was trapped in his home in the far reaches of Transcona after more snow walloped Winnipeg.

Mike Murphy says he called 311 to no avail, but was finally freed by Snow Angels

Tom Ethans, executive director of Take Pride Winnipeg, and student Carly Martin dig out a walkway on Tuesday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

For three days, Mike Murphy was trapped in his home in the far reaches of Transcona, after more snow walloped Winnipeg.

The 75-year-old has lived in his home on Durado Bay since 1989 but because of neuropathy in his legs, shovelling his walkway has become an impossible task.

"It was awful. I had a barrier of ice and snow across my driveway three feet high. Impossible, completely on foot," he said. "There was no access to my house at all."

Murphy is not alone. 

Snowstorms in December left more than 70 centimetres of snow on the ground in the city, almost quadrupling the monthly average of just under 20 cm.

The latest storm system arrived Monday afternoon and had already left close to 10 centimetres of snow in some parts of the city as of Tuesday morning, with blowing winds and more snowfall expected to continue into the day.

The city has been criticized for how it handled or failed to prioritize sidewalk clearing and windrow cleanup in back lanes after the storms. City policy dictates windrow removal is the responsibility of homeowners.

The city's public works committee has previously looked into whether to make residents shovel sidewalks in front of their homes, rather than have it fall on contractors or city crews.

The City of Winnipeg is being criticized for how it handled or failed to prioritize sidewalk clearing and windrow cleanup in back lanes after recent snowstorms, while some seniors are relying on volunteers to get their walkways cleared. 1:43

Murphy has home care come to his house weekly and has his groceries delivered. He also relies on Handi-Transit to get around, and they couldn't pull up to his walk to get him.

He said he can push light snow out of the way, but when the heavy snow falls it leaves him confined inside.

"You can sleep better if you know that you are accessible," he said. "If you think that you are inaccessible, it's hard to go to sleep. You feel that every symptom that I got with my condition seems to rise to the surface. You tend to worry more."

After multiple calls to 311, where he said he didn't get an update on when he would get snow help, Murphy called a pilot program in Winnipeg, the Snow Angels.

Mike Murphy says he was trapped in his home for days during during the recent snowfall. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

'We have a lot of seniors that are still looking for some help'

"What we are trying to do is get high school students to volunteer to help shovel walks for seniors," said Tom Ethans, executive director of Take Pride Winnipeg, which runs the Snow Angels program.

The program matches seniors with students, but the problem is there's a lot more seniors in need than young shovelers volunteering.

"We have a lot of seniors that are still looking for some help, so we are anxious to see if we can get some more students to come out and volunteer," Ethans said, adding that they need at least another 30 to 40 students.

With classes resuming quickly, he said he is optimistic to make the match. The program is also considering expanding to adult volunteers, but they are required to get a criminal background check.

Carly Martin, 16, says it's hard work but it's also important. (Jaison Empson/CBC)
On Tuesday, 16-year-old Carly Martin dug into the deep snow to clear Murphy's driveway. The Grade 11 student at Garden City Collegiate said she became a Snow Angel because she saw how important shovelling for her great-grandmother was.

"It's cold and it's tough but it's really worth it. It makes you feel great and it's great to get out and help somebody," she said.  

Her efforts were greatly appreciated by Murphy, who was delighted to see his clear walkway.

"It's miraculous," he said.

"I don't know how to thank them. It's just overwhelming. I'm delighted."

There is no longevity to the divine snow intervention because the program is running on a one-time grant of $7,000. That money was used for organizing, letting seniors and students know about the program and providing volunteers with tuques. 

Help neighbours shovel out of storm, Mayor Brian Bowman urges

After the second Colorado low over the holidays blanketed the city, Mayor Brian Bowman urged people to step up and help out. 

"If you've got neighbours that need a little extra help, let's pitch in and help," Bowman said Tuesday morning, imploring people to help shovel walkways for neighbours in need.

Winnipeg is one of the only major cities in Western Canada that endeavours to snowplow all public sidewalks in front of privately owned homes.

A snowstorm dumped close to 10 centimetres of snow on Winnipeg as of 9 a.m. Tuesday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)
Bowman said he is listening to the criticism and in theory, reopening and revising windrow and sidewalk snow removal policy is possible, but at a cost to taxpayers.

"Mother Nature throws a lot at us in winter in Winnipeg," he said. "We have to manage the budget in a fiscally responsible way. Anything is possible. Of course, it costs a lot of money."

Council will also review findings from a report this spring to see whether there's anything more the city can do to support people who need help clearing things like windrows, Bowman added.