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Calgary officials work to restore power to the downtown core

The downtown core of Calgary June 23, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

In the wake of Calgary's worst-ever flood, city officials are working to restore power to the downtown – moving from the west to the more hard-hit east side with the hope a small portion of 4,000 buildings in the core could be open again by Wednesday.

While city officials say people still need to stay out of the city core, most evacuees have been allowed back into their neighbourhoods to start the massive residential cleanup. Bruce Burrell, fire chief and head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said Monday the city is adding crews to pump water out of a still unknown number of flooded homes, a task that takes an average of three hours per property. One issue is the high rate of machinery failure as debris in the water clogs pumps.

"Now we're getting into the harder stuff . . . where we had overland flooding," said an exhausted-looking Mr. Burrell, who has been a constant presence at the city's emergency centre since the flood hit the city last Thursday.

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"There's significant debris in some of those areas, a lot of mud on the streets."

More than two dozen Alberta communities are either mopping up or bracing themselves against rising waters in what Alberta Premier Alison Redford has described as the worst floods in the province's history.

In Calgary, the city's state of emergency declaration remains in place, and the damage and cleanup days and weeks ahead is breathtaking.

As flood waters from the city's Bow and the Elbow Rivers continue to recede, parks, roads and buildings have been left devastated. A section of a major Calgary thoroughfare, Macleod Trail, has partially collapsed. The main city hall will be closed for at least the next seven days, and the Old City Hall and administration building will be closed for six weeks. Later today, Stampede officials are expected to address questions about the ability of the rodeo and festival to go ahead after the Saddledome and Stampede grounds suffered extensive flooding. Bridges need to be checked to ensure their structural integrity, and some riverside pathways and parks have been eroded away. There's no bus or C-Train (light rail transit) service to the downtown until further notice.

Parts of two badly flooded neighbourhoods still have no sewage services, and thousands of people who were evacuated last week still can't return to their homes. But with tens of thousands of Calgarians returning to their homes after the evacuation, the city is looking for up to 1,000 volunteers to help with "re-entry" services.

Mr. Burrell said 24,000 customers still don't have power, 11,000 of which are downtown in corporate towers or residential apartment buildings. Mr. Burrell said the city is moving to re-energize a series of electricity grids downtown over the next few days, starting in the west of downtown where officials believe there's the least damage from flooding. After standing water is pumped out, buildings are assessed for structural and electrical damage, 115 buildings on the same grid will be re-energized – a task Mr. Burrell hopes can be completed by Tuesday evening.

He said because the electrical system is interconnected, the city needs building owners to immediately move to bring contractors in so the lights can be turned back on.

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"We really need the co-operation of property owners in the downtown core if this is going to go smoothly," he said.

The timeline for restoration in the rest of the downtown remains up in the air, he said.

Every hour, there are signs of progress. Mr. Burrell announced Monday morning that an Inglewood berm has held and most residents from that area can return to their homes. But he also noted the work will only get more difficult as the water fully recedes and city officials are able to access the most damaged neighbourhoods.

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