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An intersection under water in High River, Alberta on Thursday, June 20, 2013. The town was under mandatory evacuation this morning after they declared a state of emergency at 9:20 a.m. and anyone who lived near a river, creek or stream was asked to leave. Recently heavy rains caused the river to break the banks which runs right through town.Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Floodwaters in southern Alberta are so high and powerful, the town of High River, about 60 kilometres south of Calgary, has evacuated its evacuation centres.

Some High River residents were still trapped in their homes Thursday evening, and family members who made it out were scouring evacuation centres, trying to locate loved ones.

Highwood High School served as one of High River's initial evacuation centres, but officials later shuttled residents to the neighbouring town of Nanton and the hamlet of Blackie. Those who took refuge in the Charles Clark Medical Centre near downtown were also moved. The High River General Hospital, near the medical centre, was also threatened, and patients were either evacuated or moved to a higher floor, one volunteer official said.

High River emergency crews and volunteers used combines, helicopters, front-end loaders and boats to get stranded residents – some which climbed on to their roofs to escape the rushing water – to safety. Cars are submerged, logs are floating down streets.

The fast-changing emergency situation put folks like Carol Robertson, 73, at extra risk. She has a condition that makes her heart race. It kicked in as the Highwood River submerged downtown High River, with her pulse hitting 157 beats per minute, about three times higher than normal, she said.

An ambulance got her to a safe spot in the southeast part of town.

"Then I got lost," she said.

Officials told her to get on a bus, which took her to Highwood School. When officials emptied that facility, she ended up in Blackie, about 25 kilometres east of High River.

Her heart slowed. "I think it corrected itself with the shock of all this," she said in Blackie School's humid gymnasium. "The heart is working perfectly."

About 450 people gathered at Blackie School Thursday evening, where at least one nurse was helping the injured and elderly.

The Salvation Army handed out meals, volunteers registered evacuees and tried to connect families, and officers were duty. The evacuees wrote on message boards, sat on chairs, rested on mats, and cuddled in blankets volunteers dropped off at the school. Some picked through the pile of dry clothing on a table. A handful of sanitary napkins sat on another table.

At around 8:40 PM Mountain Time, a man wearing a sheriff's vest told able-bodied folks in Blackie School to move to Blackie Community Hall, about two blocks away. Kids played cards, ran around, and jumped off the stage in the hall, squealing and smiling. Downstairs, adults chatted at tables.

At the check-in table, where volunteers registered evacuees on green and yellow duplicate forms, Cornelius Groenwold looked for his mother and nephew.

"My mother – we think she is still held up in her condo," Mr. Groenwold said. "She's probably okay because she's on the second floor. But you always worry about her when she's 87."

The Groenwold's nephew, Tim Brinkman, was on his way to check on her when the chocolate-coloured floodwaters stalled his car.

"Last we heard he was sitting on a rooftop," Mr. Groenwold said. Mr. Brinkman was huddled with strangers, and able to communicate via text message. Cellphone lines were largely jammed early in the day, and dead later in the afternoon. Some landlines were also knocked out.

Mr. Groenwold was joined by his brother Jack, whose wife was rescued by boat earlier in the day. Cornelius Groenwold lives on higher ground out of town, and Jack and his wife are staying there.

RCMP are not letting people into High River unless they come equipment such as a boat.

Calgary declared a state of emergency and up to 100,000 residents were told to leave their homes Friday morning. Canmore, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Crowsnest Pass, are among the string of communities in southern Alberta that are under a state of emergency. Heavy and steady rains brought on the flooding.

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