May 18, 2024

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City of Winnipeg orders evacuation of Portage Avenue apartment block after structural issues found

3 min read

Emotions are running high inside of a Portage Avenue apartment building after the city ordered residents to vacate Thursday night due to serious structural deterioration.

The City of Winnipeg has issued an order to the owner of 2440 Portage Ave., also known as Birchwood Terrace, to immediately vacate the building under city building and emergency management bylaws due to unsafe conditions, it said in a news release late Thursday night.

The order was made after the city said it was notified of a third-party engineering inspection that discovered severe deterioration in various parts of the building’s structure.

A city spokesperson says there are about 180 suites in the building, but it’s not yet certain how many are occupied.

Inspection suspects ‘pervasive’ deterioration

CBC obtained a copy of the city’s evacuation order, as well as a Thursday night memo sent to residents by Lakewood Agencies, which operates Birchwood Terrace on behalf of its parent company, Ladco.

The city order cites from an inspection by an engineering consultant, which says it found serious corrosion in columns of Birchwood Terrace’s parkade, adding that it “leads us to believe that this is a pervasive condition that puts the overall stability of the structure in question.”

The Lakewood Agencies memo says the leases of Birchwood Terrace residents are considered terminated as of Thursday and invites them to a Friday information meeting.

“There may be more damaged structure but further investigation cannot proceed if the building is occupied,” it says. “Furthermore, repairs cannot be completed while the building is occupied.”

A sign that says 'Birchwood Terrace' on an apartment building is pictured.
It is not clear when Birchwood Terrace will be safe enough for residents to return, but the city says it expects repairs to take several months to complete. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Julia Walton, who has lived in the building for over a year, says she got home around 8 p.m. Thursday and saw police outside, but didn’t think anything of it.

She went to her apartment to get her dog, and didn’t realize something was wrong until making her way back out.

“I was in the elevator and this woman said ‘This is a nightmare,'” and told her about the evacuation order, Walton told CBC.

“Some people in the hallway were saying they have nowhere to go.”

Birchwood Terrace houses many seniors, she said.

“There are some very senior people in this block that have been in here for 30 years that don’t have other family, and they have pets, and it’s just heartbreaking to think what are they going to do?”

A document is pictured.
The city’s order to vacate cites from an inspection by an engineering consultant, which says it found serious corrosion in columns of Birchwood Terrace’s parkade. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Christian Umpherville, a Birchwood Terrace resident for about five years, says he’s stressed.

“Not everyone’s going to be able to get out of here overnight,” he told CBC Thursday. “I don’t know what the hell’s going to happen here.”

Although the city order says the vacate order is effective immediately, Umpherville says residents have been told to be gone by 8 a.m., and emotions are running high.

“We all need more time,” he said. “Not everyone here has friends helping them out [or who are] willing to stay up for the next few hours just to move everything out.”

A man wearing a baseball cap, black vest, and red t-shirt is pictured.
Christian Umpherville, a Birchwood Terrace resident for about five years, says everyone needs more time to move out of the apartment building. (CBC)

Officials will go door-to-door to let tenants know about the order to vacate and to make sure everyone leaves, the city’s release says.

They will also visit tenants of neighbouring properties along Assiniboine Crescent to let them know that they are on an evacuation watch and to prepare to leave if needed.

It is not clear when the building will be safe enough for residents to return, but the city says it expects repairs to take several months to complete.

A reception centre to help residents find temporary accommodation, resources and support will also be established.

CBC has reached out to Lakewood Agencies for comment.

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