One year ago today, Alberta suffered the worst floods ever recorded. The region is remembering this terrible event this week with a lot of witness accounts, some of which just make me fill up.
At the time I didn’t write much about it, but I thought today was a good time to remember the events from a year ago.
In the days leading up to 20-Jun-2013, Southern Alberta experienced heavy rainfalls, which, combined with the already saturated ground and the heavy snow packs on the mountains, led to the catastrophic flooding most of you saw on your TVs. During this time 32 local states of emergency were declared and 28 emergency operations centers were opened. Four people lost their lives as a direct result of the flooding and over 100,000 people were displaced during this time. The Canadian Forces deployed 2,200 troops to help in the flooded areas, and the total estimated damaged exceeded CDN$5 billion.
The hardest hit area was High River, a small town just west of us. The water rose so quickly that a lot people just about had enough time to grab their important documents and evacuate before the waters came into their homes. As the seriousness of this natural disaster became clear, people stepped up to the plate. They opened their homes to take in families that had been displaced, they donated clothes, blankets, food, personal hygiene items, you name it, it was donated. Volunteers came forward to help in any way they could, a lot of them working 20 hours a day. Schools closed and pupils, our daughter included, didn’t get to write their Grade 9 end of year tests.
High River disappeared, with most houses and businesses flooded, a lot of the to the roof tops. In comparison, our town had it easy. The old downtown core was flooded and some residents in that area had to evacuate. Our railway bridge experienced extensive damage, as shown on the photo below. The campground by the Sheep River was completely flooded and the riverside pathways were swept away – but all this is rather insignificant when compared to our neighbouring town of High River.
Calgary also suffered badly in this flood. The Calgary Zoo, located on St. George’s Island, was completely flooded and the staff there did an amazing job to keep the animals all safe. Calgary had 26 neighbourhoods that had to be evacuated, including the downtown district. The Calgary Saddledome was flooded, as was the Calgary Stampede Grounds. The City of Calgary kept everyone informed 24/7 thanks to social media. Mayor Nenshi and his team did an incredible job in communicating with the city’s residents and they worked around the clock to deal with this disaster. At one point #napforNenshi trended on Twitter, as the Mayor admitted to not having slept for days.
The clean up operation that started as soon as waters were receding was immense. Calgary was adamant that its annual rodeo, the Stampede, would go ahead only four weeks later – and it did. Their adopted slogan was “Come hell or high water”, and the zoo adopted the “Two and two, rebuild the zoo” slogan (see my previous post on the zoo’s re-opening here).
High River had the biggest challenge, as residents were not allowed back into most neighbourhoods for quite some time. When the green light finally came most families were devastated when they saw the damage to their homes. The town adopted a traffic light system; green meant your home was habitable, orange was a sign that it needed some work, but was ok to go in, a red was a no go condemned sign. Help arrived from all over the area, people went in truck loads, armed with shovels, buckets, gloves, masks, rain boots and water/food to help the residents with the insurmountable clean up. The same happened in Calgary, neighbourhoods got together to organize clean up parties. It is at times like these that people will come together and help each other, people opened their doors and hearts to complete strangers during this time of utter devastation.
One year on and there are still some residents that have not been able to return to their homes, and probably never will. Flood defenses are still being build and towns are being restored. For most of us life continued almost unchanged, but for the people of these hard hit communities life will never be the same again.
This week has brought this area more rain and with it more floods. Thankfully it looks like it will be nowhere near as bad as last year for most of us in this area, but states of emergencies were declared in some places south of us. It stopped raining today for the first time in 5 days, so the hope is that the waters will recede over the weekend.