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The Globe and Mail

Dealing with disaster: How things stack up in Alberta

Eddy Marshall is overwhelmed by the damage to the basement in his High River home.



Albertans and people across Canada had instant sympathy for the province's flood victims. The unharmed wanted to help. Physical labour – pulling apart drywall, duct-taping fridges shut and hauling ruined belongings out of damaged homes – became key ways people in Calgary, Canmore and other areas pitched in.

But as High River opens to its residents, officials want volunteers there to stand down, at least for now. Thousands of High River residents are queuing up to get into their neighbourhoods, and more people coming in via the town's damaged infrastructure will slow the process. Volunteers, officials say, can come later.

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Thousands of homes and residents in southern Alberta were affected, and the need will last for months.

"Siksika Nation is in particular need of volunteers trained in food preparation," the aid group YYC Helps says on its website. The community needs help to sort donations, make food hampers and deal with mould remediation. It needs cooks, and people trained to clean seriously flood-damaged homes.


Shelves at the Calgary Food Bank need to be replenished as residents return to fridges full of spoiled food – or no food at all. "Calgarians' generosity has been overwhelmingly generous – but the need will continue in coming days and weeks," the city said in a statement concerning the food bank.

Siksika Nation, a reserve largely without running water, requires supplies.

Grocery stores are already under pressure. Calgary's southeast, where many citizens were evacuated and still fear water and utilities will be cut off, has had a run on supermarkets. At one Safeway, the lineups were worse than at Christmas. Customers helped staff bag other customers' groceries. Two top-selling items: water and potato chips.

On Monday, a Calgary Safeway store manager made announcements on when the next shipment of bottled water was coming. People were offering money to others who had water.

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Thousands of people are standing in line for hours to get government-issued debit cards. The wait at Calgary's Queen Elizabeth High School, one of the city's four debit-card distribution centres, was at least two hours on Canada Day.

A stream of volunteers handed out food, water and Freezies, and a man played classic rock hits on a keyboard to keep people entertained.

Every adult who was evacuated for at least seven days is eligible for a card with $1,250 on it. Children get $500.

There are no restrictions on how the money can be used, but the province is pleading with citizens to spend the money wisely – and fairly.

"They are intended to be used responsibly to support Albertans with expenses related to being evacuated," the government said in a statement.

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"We have not set up rules on how to spend the money."


Getting in and out of places such as High River is frustrating, as displaced residents are anxious to return. When they get back, they will find bridges and roads off-limits. Two of Siksika's three bridges are out of commission. Some streets are still closed in Calgary, and some lanes are designated for buses until the light rail system is fully restored. With fewer lanes and restricted areas, drivers in the city need to take a few deep breaths. The Calgary Stampede, set to kick off on Friday, is always a traffic – and public transit – nightmare, and the 101st celebration could even worse unless people exercise patience.


Some communities in Alberta remain under a boil-water advisory. Some are without power and sanitary sewer services. Dust deemed toxic because it comes from material soaked by contaminated water is everywhere.

"Citizens and business owners are reminded that mud, solid and slurry waste from basements, underground parking facilities and other buildings is NOT to be dumped into our river systems. This waste material could contain contaminants," Calgary said on its website.

Mould is forming. Riverbanks are unstable. Erosion caused a bank on Calgary's Elbow River to give way over the long weekend, and a man nearly fell in. The Alberta government is even issuing warnings on everyday dangers: "People are encouraged to be patient and if possible wear appropriate sun protection as lines [for emergency flood aid] may be long," it said in a statement on Canada Day.

With reports from Alan Maki and Jeffrey Jones

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