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Downtown Calgary businesses struggle with floodwaters

A sidewalk sign sits almost completely under water on flooded streets of Calgary on Friday June 21, 2013. Alberta's largest city was swamped Friday by floodwaters that submerged much of the lower bowl of the Saddledome hockey arena, displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The floodwaters sloshing around the now-empty office towers of downtown Calgary have a major impact on the Western city known as the heartland of Canada's oil business and the country's second-largest collection of corporate headquarters.

On Friday, the downtown core was ordered evacuated by city officials as the waters rose, though many in companies' executive and worker ranks had stayed home, or in other locations around town if they were told to leave their houses, as tens of thousands were.

Many of the city's top executives in the energy and finance industries live in low-lying areas close to the Elbow River in the southwest quadrant of the city.

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Jim Davidson, chief Executive of energy brokerage FirstEnergy Capital Corp., said it was clear that the disaster was far worse than eight years ago, the last time his Elbow Park neighbourhood flooded.

The upscale community borders the Elbow River, which swelled to expansive extents overnight, swamping large areas of town.

"With the damage, it's not a matter of if, it's how much," Mr. Davidson said. "House after house after house after house, even those that are far from the river."

FirstEnergy began the day with just a skeleton staff at its downtown headquarters before the entire district was evacuated later in the day.

Mr. Davidson and his colleagues were beginning the process of determining what would be the best way to assist the city and the rest of southern Alberta as struggles to deal with the crisis and rebuilding begins.

"Most people here are still assessing the extent of the damage. We don't know as of yet what needs to be done and how we can help, but we definitely will help," he said.

Cenovus Energy Inc., the oil sands producer, told its staff to stay away from the downtown core if possible on Friday. The largest concentration of Cenovus staff are in the new Bow building, Western Canada's tallest office tower.

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Sheila McIntosh, a Cenovus vice-president, lives in Springbank outside Calgary's Western limits, but found traveling to town treacherous because the bridge over Highway 8 into the city's southwest was closed due to flooding.

"Lots of friends' houses have been totally inundated, and it is devastating," Ms. McIntosh said. "Other friends have got lots of people staying with them. Our challenge is that we've been a little bit cut off."

The company is among several that have made donations to relief efforts public. It pledged $1 million, including $250 million to the Red Cross. Other companies, including ATB Financial and Royal Bank of Canada, have also made sizable contributions to the Red Cross.

With tens of thousands of people evacuated in southern Alberta it is almost impossible to find someone who is not affected or does not has a close friend or relative who is.

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About the Author
Mergers and Acquisitions Reporter

Jeffrey Jones is a veteran journalist specializing in mergers, acquisitions and private equity for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2013, he was a senior reporter for Reuters, writing news, features and analysis on energy deals, pipelines, politics and general topics. More

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