Marty Woods cancelled his youngest daughter’s birthday twice this month. November Sage Woods turned eight on June 19, but Mr. Woods and his wife, Kim, couldn’t afford a celebration.
“At the time, we didn’t have money for her birthday, so we postponed it,” he says.
The sleepover party was cancelled again when the Bow River plowed through his house last Friday. His basement is full of murky water. His main floor is coated in river mud – potentially toxic in a flood because of pathogens. His bathtub on the upper floor is half full of thick sludge. He’s speckled with the stuff after helping his buddies use fence posts as leverage to get a white Dodge Ram unstuck – a truck that was on its way to pull out a stuck grey Dodge Ram.
Health officials have not cleared Mr. Woods’ house for re-entry, but he’s here anyway. He’s standing over November’s tiny pink and brown cowboy boots, which are covered in the river muck. The Bow tossed around furniture and appliances, including the family’s Crosley Shelvador fridge. The white fridge, decorated with square magnets with coloured letters, is on its back in the kitchen. Mr. Woods can’t get into November’s room because beds and other belongings are jammed against the door. Mr. and Ms. Woods’ diplomas and some pictures survived, only because they were hanging high on the wall.
The white Samsung high-efficiency washer and dryer he bought his wife for a wedding gift – they were married on Dec. 18, 2012 – didn’t survive. “She just loved that thing,” Mr. Woods says, pushing hard against the laundry room door, getting it just wide enough to peek in.
The flood water crested about eight feet off the ground at Mr. Woods’ place. He hasn’t taken November and his four other children to see their busted toys, overturned chairs and muddied walls.
“I don’t want them to see this,” he says.
He lives – or lived – in Little Washington, one of the Siksika Nation’s six communities smacked by the Bow. Its flood waters directly affected 220 homes, and affected – directly or otherwise – 671 homes on Siksika last Friday.
“I sat on that hill and watched the whole community flood,” Mr. Woods says. “Nothing nobody could do.”
The Woods’ situation is typical in Siksika, a microcosm of the damage and fear blanketing southern Alberta. The floods have killed at least four people, and dive teams are searching for more victims in High River, about 65 kilometres south of Calgary. Homes are still under water there, and recovery crews sparked a fire in town as they tried to restore power.
Days of steady rain – unusual for the area – coupled with the annual spring melt in the mountains threw 27 communities in the southern half of the province into a state of emergency.
Rivers across the province got a piece of the action: The Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, Oldman and South Saskatchewan rivers were among those that threatened or ripped apart houses, highways, bridges, railways, sewer systems, power plants and other critical pieces of infrastructure.
Lobi the hippo made a break for it at the Calgary Zoo but got stuck before he could escape. Carrie, a giraffe, is traumatized.
Every level of government is working to secure damaged regions and bring citizens comfort – from the Canadian Forces (sweeping houses for missing people) to Calgary’s librarians (waiving fees for returning books late or damaged by water).
This undertaking will test the relationship between Siksika – a member of the Blackfoot confederation and Treaty Seven signatory (a deal signed in 1877 between the Blackfoot Confederacy and Canada and Britain) – and the provincial and federal governments. Canada’s reserves are already among the most impoverished communities, and housing is a perpetual problem.
Siksika Chief Fred Rabbit Carrier has heard from the federal government, but Ottawa’s response has been vague.
“The message is they are aware of our situation and they will be providing us with resources, but no definite date,” he says in the Deerfoot Sportsplex, where some of the reserve’s 1,000 evacuees sleep on stretchers in the gymnasium.
Mr. Rabbit Carrier has warmer words for the provincial government. “The Alberta government has stepped up,” he says. “I don’t believe we will be forgotten.”
Neighbouring towns like Strathmore and Bragg Creek, itself in tatters because of the floods, have pitched in with the recovery. Companies such as Atco Ltd. and natural gas player Encana Corp., which operate on Blackfoot traditional territory, have donated money, he says.
First Nations across Canada often fall through jurisdictional policy gaps, but the floods that forced thousands from their homes in communites such as Siksika and drove thousands more to help strangers could foster a new relationship between First Nations and governments, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo says.
“This, in my view, has an opportunity to reflect the shift in not only how you respond in moments of tragedy, which naturally compel you to come together, but that we don’t lose that sentiment,” he says.
“That we broaden it over the long run as we make sure the families and communities are taken care of in all aspects of their lives.”
Siksika’s neighbours, friends and strangers are stepping up: The Sportsplex’s ice surface is completely covered, save for narrow pathways, with donations. Boxes of Huggies and Pampers are stacked seven feet high by the door where skaters rush from the dressing rooms to the ice surface. Baby strollers hang off the glass near the players’ benches. Over by the penalty boxes, volunteers fold and stack towels, right by boxes of Red Cross Comfort Kits. Hundreds of shoes, sorted by size, line the boards between what would be the blue line almost to the goal line. Hundreds of bottles of water sit in flats where the Zamboni would enter the rink. Volunteers rip open bags of clothes and sort by size. Three semi-trucks full of supplies arrived from California.
“Is there a section for maternities?” one volunteer asks another.
Some of Siksika’s newly homeless band members set up tents outside the Sportsplex – close enough to get food and visit friends, far enough away to have privacy while sleeping. The campers walk by 45 porta-potties – 40 orange and five blue – before reaching their temporary homes.
Marty Woods is also camping, although far from the Sportsplex. He borrowed a tent trailer from his brother Stacey , and his evacuated family and their three dogs – a shepherd, a boxer cross and an Alaskan Malamute – are gathered on a plateau overlooking the flood plain.
Beside him, Harold Woods is pouring Castrol motor oil into one of those red jerry cans of gasoline. He’s Marty’s dad, missing a few teeth, and prepping fuel for the generator powering his son’s recovery effort.
“The chief,” the elder Woods says, “is going to have to move everybody to higher grounds.”
Marty keeps an eye on his house from here, although it is just a speck at this distance. Even the Bow can’t reach the top of this hill.
“It is a good spot for a house,” he says.