As residents from one southern Alberta community began evacuating their flooded homes on Wednesday, others exhaled in relief as river flow projections were significantly reduced.
Alberta Environment was predicting peak flows on the South Saskatchewan through Medicine Hat at 2,400 cubic metres per second — less than half the original figure.
City officials said that meant evacuations would be unlikely, but heavy rain elsewhere in the region was forcing people from their homes.
“We’ve provided an evacuation centre for people who need to get out of their homes right now,” said Claresholm Mayor Rob Steel.
Overland flooding in the town of 3,800, about 130 kilometres south of Calgary, affected about 40 homes and some sewers backed up.
Steel said the only formal evacuation order was for the town campground, but some town residents needed help right away. Some homes were surrounded by water and some were actually submerged.
There is no river nearby. The nearest waterway, Willow Creek, is at least five kilometres from the main townsite.
It started raining off and on Monday afternoon, but Claresholm’s problems started after a heavy downpour early Wednesday that one town official described as “coming down in sheets.”
“We need the rain to stop,” Steel said. “Our infrastructure is very good here, but it’s not keeping up.”
Those whose homes were affected were being offered shelter at the arena. The fire department was helping those who couldn’t get there on their own.
“We’re asking everyone else to just stay off the streets,” said town spokeswoman Karine Wilhauk. “We’re just trying to deal with this situation. We don’t want to have any more problems.”
All schools were closed, but students writing diploma exams were being bused from the evacuation centre to their schools. Town officials said water levels appeared to have stabilized, but a heavy rainfall warning remained in effect.
Many communities southwestern Alberta have received more than 90 millimetres of rain. Environment Canada is predicting another 40 to 70 millimetres before the sun returns on Friday.
The flooding comes as Alberta prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2013 flood. In total, 100,000 people had to flee their homes in southern Alberta last June.
Communities hit the hardest in that flood — including Canmore, Calgary and High River — are further to the north of the area currently experiencing high water and are fine so far.
Claresholm Resident Phyllis Faulkner told radio station CHQR she watched as water poured into her basement, just as it did last year.
“I’m standing there. The water’s running in and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, going, ‘I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it,“’ she said.
“I’m going to lose everything again — my brand-new furnace is under water again. My brand-new hot-water tank is under water again.
“They’re done. They’re toast.”
The Blood reserve, the town of Cardston and Lethbridge County, were also preparing residents for possible evacuations due to rising river levels.
States of emergency were also in effect in Coalhurst, the Municipal District of Willow Creek, Crowsnest Pass and Medicine Hat.
In the city of Lethbridge, there was no state of emergency, but people were being advised to stay away from possibly unstable riverbanks as water levels on the Oldman River continued to rise. Bridges across the river remained open, but sandbagging was underway at the water treatment plant and some other areas at risk.
The river valley was closed to the public.