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There was hope Tuesday that some of the thousands of residents forced from their homes by flood fears would be able to return by nightfall.

"The earliest would be some time this evening," said Drumheller fire Chief Bill Bachynski.

"There's many things to consider. We're hoping somewhere in the 6 o'clock range. We have to determine if it's safe for those utilities to be turned on for the residents."

A return home would be welcome news to the 3,200 evacuated residents in this community of 8,000, some of whom were longing for a shower and other creature comforts.

The strain was starting to show on impatient and worried children.

"Bored stiff," is how Tara Metzger described her two children. She and her family have been staying at an evacuation centre since being ordered out of their homes Sunday.

"They want to go home and they can't for another 24 to 48 hours maybe. They play ball or we go for walks, and that's about it."

Her young son has been worrying about what may have happened back home.

"He's worried that he's going to lose everything - his toys and his bike and the X-Box. I tell him everything's going to be OK and we'll go down later today and he'll know," Ms. Metzger said.

Others were simply looking for a hot soak.

"Now we're waiting to get back home and jump in the shower and the tub," said Helen Fay, one of about 15 people staying at a Drumheller school.

"We think we're camping, actually. We even got teddy bears."

Emergency operations spokesman Ross Rawlusyk said at least 25 homes were flooded, but damage from the swollen Red Deer River could have been a lot worse.

A log jam on a tributary north of the town prevented the water from rising even higher.

Water levels were near the top of the town's major dikes, which were under constant watch Tuesday for leaks or weak spots.

By midday, the river level fell slightly but the flow was still 1,315 cubic metres per second. Normal flow for the river at this time of year is 80.

Darlene Haines, whose home is just a few metres away from the river, will never be able to look at it the same way again.

"You have a whole different attitude towards it," she said. "You look at some of the low-lying areas and you say, 'You know what? I'm not going to buy real estate in that area.'"

Others were unperturbed.

Although Peter Bitzer and his wife have been living in a tent, cooking their way through food they had to remove from their freezer after the power was unplugged, he wasn't concerned for the future.

"They say this was a pretty unique event," he said. "I don't think it'll affect the way I live."

Municipal Affairs Minister Rob Renner announced Tuesday the province is expanding its $55-million disaster recovery program that covers uninsurable damage, although he said it was too early to say how much extra money may be needed.

Municipalities will also be able to use the fund to cover things such as road repairs and emergency operations costs, Mr. Renner said.

The province will also be seeking disaster funds from Ottawa.

In Morrin, Alta., the floodwaters had some unforeseen tragic results. Gawkers watching the swirling waters of the Red Deer River triggered a chain-reaction collision that killed a truck driver.

A retired RCMP officer and his wife were also hurt in the Monday night crash, which sent the semi-trailer into the flood-swollen river where it was swept away.

RCMP say the truck was travelling the speed limit of 100 kilometres an hour when it came over a hill where cars had slowed down because there were so many people on a bridge to look at the river.

The driver of the truck desperately dodged several cars before hitting one, then flew through two girders and plunged into the murky water.

Meanwhile, residents of low-lying neighbourhoods in Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River Valley were breathing easier after that river crested overnight well below predictions.

Emergency services spokesman Chris McLeod said water levels levelled out at about 8.8 metres. Earlier forecasts of 10 metres meant homes along the river's edge would have been flooded, but only some park areas and river pathways were under some water.

The Red Deer is just one of several Alberta waterways that have been swollen by heavy June rains. Thousands of people have been forced from their homes and lost possessions to floodwaters.

Extensive property damage was reported on the Siksika reserve east of Calgary, where the flooding Bow River forced the evacuation of 85 families on the weekend.

The usually placid Elbow River spilled over its banks on the weekend in Calgary, forcing more than 1,500 people from their homes and prompting a mandatory water-rationing order.

Damage estimates are still preliminary but are expected to more than double the $100-million cost of the last widespread flooding in southern Alberta in 1995.

Officials are unsure if two people who have vanished in the last couple of weeks might have fallen into the swollen waters around Calgary.

Caitlin Sharpe, 15, disappeared early Sunday while on her way home from a friend's place. Police said the girl had called a friend saying "she was up to her knees in water."

Her route would have included crossing the Bow River on a wooden pedestrian bridge, which joggers in the area said had collapsed Saturday night.

A 21-year-old Calgary man presumed to have fallen into fast-moving water June 9 as he took a path through Fish Creek Provincial Park has not been found.

Albertans were not the only people worried about flooding as the runoff headed east into Saskatchewan.

Forecasters said low-lying areas near the South Saskatchewan, North Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan rivers could expect some flooding this week.

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