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Evacuated High River residents given option of apartments

Evacuated High River residents have been given the option to move into apartments at the University of Lethbridge as tensions rise between those running High River's recovery operation and evacuees sleeping on cots a metre apart in neighbouring towns.

High River Mayor Emile Blokland addressed evacuees Thursday, one week after they had to leave their homes, noting there is also a plan to get some residents back to work.

Many High River residents are angry they cannot return to their homes, even to retrieve clean clothes and to check out the damage brought on when the Highwood River rushed through town. Parts of the town were untouched or have since dried, but officials say without proper sewer, water, and power systems, the town is unsafe and residents will impede the recovering efforts. Invisible dangers such as toxic dust and sinkholes also threaten areas at appear safe.

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The relocation program is voluntary, and transportation will be provided by bus, Mr. Blokland said.

"We're offering greatly improved, short-term housing, in one, two, and three-bedroom apartments on the University of Lethbridge campus."

Some evacuated residents will also have a chance to get back to work.

"We will also be providing necessary transportation to evacuees who need to get back and forth to jobs in the High River area," he said.

Mr. Blokland hopes on Friday he will be able announce a timeline for re-entry. The return to High River will be staged because not all areas of town are safe. Some are still completely underwater. Bridges are unstable, and debris, ranging from boats to power lines to smashed vehicles, are scattered around town.

High River was evacuated last Thursday and is one of the hardest hit areas of the natural disaster that hit much of southern Alberta. Eighteen communities, including Calgary, remain in a state of emergency. This is an improvement since rivers across the southern half of Alberta flooded because unusually high levels of precipitation came as the spring snowmelt in the mountains hit the waterways.

About 13,000 people live in High River, and officials say about 300 stayed in their homes, defying the mandatory evacuation order. The evacuation centres set up in High River had to be evacuated as floodwater swelled and residents needing shelter are now in Nanton, Okotoks, and Blackie.

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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