When one metre of water pressed against Jennifer MacPherson’s walkout basement door, it began to buckle and she feared it would burst open, and the flood would overwhelm the entire house.
But amazingly, the glass door held even as Calgary’s Elbow River reached its peak. And as the waters gradually began to recede on Saturday, Dr. MacPherson, a pediatrician, her husband Gordon and two teenage children spent Saturday cleaning up the water that leaked into their basement with the hope of salvaging a number of muddy possessions, and their house.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Dr. MacPherson said above the constant roar of sump pumps.
While the water is going down in the MacPhersons’ neighbourhood of Discovery Ridge, in the far west of Calgary, the rest of the city is far from being out of the woods.
In fact, across the province on Saturday, some communities were cleaning up from flooding while others were steeling themselves for more rising waters.
From Edmonton to Medicine Hat, including Drumheller and the Siksika First Nation east of Calgary, residents and officials nervously watched rising river levels. In High River, overrun by floods on Thursday, abandoned vehicles, smashed out windows and total devastation made the flood ravaged town closely resemble a war zone, right down to the soldiers and rumble of military vehicles on the streets. In Canmore, a section of the Trans-Canada Highway damaged by mudslides remains closed.
The province counted 25 local states of emergency.
“Once this is over, we’re going to be there to help re-build,” said Alberta Premier Alison Redford said while touring flood preparations in Medicine Hat. “We know that’s the most important thing at the end of the day.”
In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city has turned the corner as river water flows beginning to drop. Still, unknown numbers of mud-caked homes are under water or damaged in a city where 75,000 or more have faced a mandatory evacuation. Houses, buildings and cars are flooded, and some homes in hard-hit inner city neighbourhoods such as Roxboro, Rideau Park and Bowness are accessible only by boat.
Tens of thousands of Calgary homes are without power, which has prompted a second round of people to leave. The downtown of the city, most of which doesn’t have any electricity, could be effectively shut down until the middle of next week. Some oil and gas companies headquartered in the city centre have moved Monday-morning meetings to the suburbs. Almost all schools are closed on Monday, and Mr. Nenshi announced late Saturday that Grade 12 students will be exempted from remaining diploma exams.
While some in evacuated neighbourhoods are being allowed to return to their homes, the state of emergency remains, water levels are still high, and the powerful Bow River is still eroding riverbanks as it recedes at a much slower rate than the smaller Elbow River.
On Saturday evening, military personnel, police and other city workers were working to build jetties to stop the Bow River from eroding an Inglewood area riverbank, and potentially flooding or re-flooding dozens of homes. Less than two days ago, 90 metres of parkland separated the edge of a street and the river bank. By Saturday, it had been reduced to 30 metres.
“Part of 8th Avenue is crumbling into the river,” Calgary Alderman Gian-Carlo Carra said as he surveyed the scene.
“It’s a little bit of a crestfallen moment for people in Inglewood who thought this was over.”
In a sign of how officials still believe the flooding situation will take days or weeks to resolve and begin a serious cleanup, the Conservative Party announced Saturday that it postponed its policy convention scheduled to begin June 27 in downtown Calgary. A new date has not been set.
But officials still insist the city’s biggest event, the Calgary Stampede, will go ahead as planned despite the fact the grounds are flooded, including the grandstand and the Saddledome.
On Saturday, the people whose homes or basements are destroyed made the best of the sun shining. In the low-lying inner city neighbourhood of Sunnyside – badly flooded by the Bow River – a group of neighbours held a sidewalk barbeque open to all, using the opportunity to cook off burgers and other food going bad in homes without power. Bottles of water dropped off by an out-of-town do-gooder were enjoyed alongside beer retrieved from waterlogged basements.
“It’s been sombre,” said Susan Ashton, who took a turn at the grill.
“But the sense of community is phenomenal,” she said. “It keeps a smile on your face.”
Meanwhile, almost 1,000 evacuees with no friends or family to stay with continued find a temporary home at several emergency centres around the city. Evacuee Dale Doolan, 63, had been staying at a downtown homeless shelter for families with her daughter and five grandchildren before they had been told they needed to leave. She spent Saturday afternoon at a garage sale, buying a bag of toys for the kids housed at the Central Memorial High School emergency shelter, who had nothing to play with.
“The service is good. The nurses are always walking around to see if anybody needs any help,” Ms. Doolan said of the city-run shelter. “They provide diapers and everything.”
With a file from the Canadian Press.