Calgary begins recovery as flood threat moves downstream

Calgary — The Globe and Mail

Gordon MacPherson, left, a home owner in Calgary’s Discovery Ridge,removes a water-soaked couch from his flooded basement with help from a friend on June 22, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

City emergency officials offered a glimmer of hope for Calgarians affected by widespread flooding, saying Saturday morning they expect water flows on the city’s two rivers to recede over the next couple of days – by as much as 60 per cent on the Elbow River, and about 25 per cent on the much larger Bow River, which will take a number of days to come down.

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“It’s morning in Calgary! Sunny, water levels are down, and our spirit remains strong,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi tweeted Saturday morning. “We’re not out of this, but maybe have turned corner.”

However, Calgary is far from being out of the woods. The city remains under a state of emergency, water levels are still high, and the possibility of a surge of water from upstream on the Bow River still exists.

The Conservative Party decided Saturday to postpone its convention scheduled to begin June 27 at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary. A new date has not been set.

Days of rain coupled with the spring runoff from the Rockies combined to bloat rivers in Alberta, and communities downstream were bracing for their own crisis. The RCMP confirmed Saturday that three bodies were found in the High River area Friday.

Water levels were rising in Medicine Hat, which declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, saying it was expecting its river to crest Saturday night. Ten thousand residents in low-lying areas were told they needed to be out of their homes by this morning.

“We’re planning for the worst,” Mayor Norm Boucher told the Medicine Hat News.

The disaster stretches from Edmonton south to Lethbridge – a span of 500 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. Approximately 800 people were rescued in High River by helicopter Friday.

Back in Calgary, unknown numbers of homes are under water or damaged in neighbourhoods where 75,000 or more people have been evacuated. Tens of thousands of Calgary homes are without power, and the city’s commercial core could be shut down for days.

Bridges and roads remain impassable and the full extent of the damage hasn’t yet been seen by anyone.

“It still remains a challenging and dangerous situation,” said Bruce Burrell, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. “The rivers are fast-flowing, and the water can be deceptively deep in some areas.”

While city officials say a very limited number of people under mandatory evacuation may be able to return to portions of six neighbourhoods later today – mostly in cases where the waters didn’t damage their specific homes – Mr. Burrell warned people to stay out of the wide majority of evacuated areas that remain under the ban. Already, some Calgarians have been allowed to return to some areas of higher ground in Discovery Ridge, an area in the city’s far west.

“It will be a lengthy return to normal,” Mr. Burrell said.

Calgary’s water is still safe to drink, but officials asked that people avoid unnecessary water use – like car washing or plant watering.

With Calgary’s Stampede just two weeks away, Mr. Burrell said that he is “planning on being in the parade … and we’re going to do everything we can to restore the city.”

At the same time, Mr. Burrell said the emergency officials are treating the Stampede – which has seen extensive flooding on its grounds and will require massive cleanup work – like other downtown businesses.

“Is the Stampede area one of our priorities? Yes. So is the community, and the communities, immediately to the west of Stampede park, which are having some of the most significant flooding in the city of Calgary.”

With files from Steven Chase and the Canadian Press

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