Water levels, death toll expected to rise in flood-ravaged Alberta

Calgary — The Globe and Mail

A car and van sit in the flooded streets of Calgary on Friday June 21, 2013. Alberta's largest city was swamped Friday by floodwaters that submerged much of the lower bowl of the Saddledome hockey arena, displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The bodies of two people swept away in Alberta’s massive flooding have been recovered and the RCMP believes the death toll will rise. Officials ordered roughly 100,000 people in the southern slice of the province to evacuate their homes, and all levels of government were pitching in to save lives, pets, homes and infrastructure as the crisis entered its third day Saturday.

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Twenty-four communities in the province have declared states of emergencies, according to Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths. Roughly 75,000 Calgarians were ordered to abandon their homes as the Bow and Elbow rivers washed over the city, although it was not known how many residents complied.

The disaster stretches from Red Deer south to Lethbridge – a span of 350 kilometres. It also reaches from Canmore eastward to Medicine Hat, two towns separated by 400 kilometres. Calgary sits roughly in the centre of these four communities. Parts of British Columbia are also affected. About 1,200 Canadian Forces personnel are available to help, and about 400 of those have been sent to High River, Canmore and Kananaskis Country – three hard-hit areas. Officers from the Edmonton Police Service were in Calgary to provide relief to their southern counterparts.

The bodies were recovered from the Highwood River near the town of High River. Their identities were unknown, and the Mounties were still looking for a woman who was caught in the current near the town of Longview on Thursday.

Days of rain coupled with the spring runoff from the Rockies combined to bloat rivers in Alberta, and the flooding is expected to continue over the weekend. The South Saskatchewan River Valley is expected to peak late Sunday afternoon, Mr. Griffiths told reporters.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wearing an army green bomber jacket and speaking to media in a spot overlooking the Bow River, praised the co-operative rescue effort.

“Everybody’s working very hard around the clock. They’re all working together and it’s just great teamwork,” he said. “We just encourage everybody to stay optimistic, stay patient and we’ll get through all this.”

Outsiders, he said, may not understand the depths of the devastation. “As a Calgarian, I don’t know if non-Calgarians would appreciate how much water this is,” he said. “I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything like this. The magnitude is just extraordinary.”

With Calgary’s downtown under significant amounts of water, officials launched a “controlled evacuation” by mid-day Friday. They urged residents and the few employees in the core to get out if water was reaching dangerous levels near their buildings, or if they lacked an independent source of power. Enmax Power “de-energized” at least one transformer as a safety precaution.

The city’s Stampede grounds, which host the Saddledome, are underwater. Chocolate-coloured water was as high as the seats in the 10th row Friday afternoon, putting pressure on the aging facility. Stampede, Calgary’s world-famous 10-day rodeo, starts July 5, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi pledged the party will go on.

“We’re Calgarians. We’ll make it work,” he said.

Mr. Nenshi, alongside fire and police officials, said the Elbow River, Calgary’s smaller waterway, likely peaked Friday morning. Its waters threatened the Glenmore Reservoir, a source of much of Calgary’s drinking water. Floodwater from the Elbow spilled into the reservoir’s buffer zone, but not into the reservoir proper, they said. Calgary’s two water treatment plants kept city water clean Friday; a boil water advisory was not needed as of late Friday afternoon.

The Bow River, however, may still be on the rise. It was moving at 1,500 cubic metres per second, three times faster than it did in the 2005 floods, Mr. Nenshi said. It is possible the Bow could hit between 1,700 and 1,750 cubic metres per second, depending on dams.

Calgary is prepared to accommodate 2,500 people in its emergency shelters, but as of Friday afternoon, only 1,500 were at the centres. Mr. Nenshi said this number is low relative to the number of people evacuated because so many people took in friends, family and strangers.

With reports from Kaleigh Rogers and Justin Giovannetti

The Globe and Mail was not able to publish in Alberta Saturday because its printing plant was in a zone that needed to be evacuated.

Follow on Twitter: @CarrieTait

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