Residents scrambling after unstable West Island apartment building forces them out indefinitely
Red Cross helping 44 people for 3 days but some fear displacement could last longer
Standing outside the Quality Hotel in Dorval where she's been forced to relocate, Sonja Reiss fears she won't be returning to her apartment building on Brunswick Boulevard in Montreal's West Island anytime soon.
"I'm missing work, you know, I don't know what to do anymore," she said.
The resident, along with 43 others living in the Dollard-des-Ormeaux apartment building, was forced out in the middle of the night on Wednesday after firefighters determined the apartment was structurally unsound. They were called in after some residents said they felt the building shaking.
"Apparently the building had shifted. People couldn't get out of their front door, especially people in the middle of the building," said Reiss, who has lived in a unit on the third floor for the past eight years. In total, 18 units were evacuated.
She says shortly after 2 a.m, residents were told to leave the building and were given only minutes to gather their belongings. Everything happened so quickly, Reiss says she didn't even have time to take her pet bird with her.
"No one will let me go get him. My daughter's heartbroken," she said.
Red Cross steps in
Volunteers with the Canadian Red Cross in Quebec have stepped in to provide shelter, food and clothing to the residents for 72 hours, but Reiss and other tenants told CBC Montreal they fear the displacement could last longer than that and they are scrambling to find housing. City officials say they will be taken care of.
The owner of the apartment building declined an interview, but one manager says they're waiting for an inspector to give the all-clear before people can move back in.
The cause of the incident is not known, but residents told CBC Montreal the basement garage has been undergoing renovations.
Lisa Jaynz's father, Mel Shaffer, has lived in the building for about 12 years. On Wednesday, the senior, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and uses a walker, called his daughter around 7 p.m. to say he couldn't open his apartment door.
"He said, 'It's stuck, I can't open it at all,'" said Jaynz. Luckily, she said, her husband was close by and rushed over to the apartment to try to open the door. He ended up having to kick it in.
Jaynz says her father has been telling her he's been hearing sounds of construction since the beginning of the week.
"Like rock or sand in the walls," she said.
Jaynz called 911 Wednesday after arriving at her father's apartment building and hearing that other residents' doors were also jammed.
"I wouldn't sleep with a clear conscience if I didn't call and make sure everyone was going to be OK," she said.
The city of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, which is overseeing the situation, says the investigation into what caused the instability of the structure is ongoing, but residents don't need to worry about housing or services.
The Red Cross is currently working with all residents of the evacuated building, says Carole Du Sault, director of communications for the organization. She says emergency care is being provided for 72 hours.
Du Sault said currently 19 rooms in the Quality Hotel in Dorval are filled with residents of the building.
"These three days is a period where they don't have to be concerned about where they're going to sleep or what they're going to eat," she said.
After that, a specialized program in Montreal will be taking over to provide housing and services for the residents until they can move back in, explained Eftyhia Volakakis, general direction of Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
Having gone through a similar situation on the same street earlier this year, where 150 units were evacuated after a major fire, Volakakis says there is already a system in place to ensure everyone is taken care of.
Still, Reiss says she's very stressed about how long it will take to move back into the apartment. Once back, however, she says she's planning on moving out due to the building's mismanagement.
"It's too bad that they don't take things seriously in this building," she said. "They haven't fixed anything for a very long time."
With files from Kwabena Oduro