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As flood waters rose in the trendy neighbourhood of Mission, two utility workers gently tried to convince a woman to leave her third-floor apartment, even offering a piggyback ride through the water. Another nearby resident who had to evacuate, Salde Elizalde, smiled as she showed me the water running in the back alley, dangerously close behind her basement apartment, happy that she had at least arrived there in time to save her passport and other important documents.A flooded street in Calgary's Mission neighbourhood June 21, 2013.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The devastation is bewildering. Rivers of dirty water flow through familiar streets. All of the damage will change the face of Calgary for months, maybe even years to come. But there were small triumphs amid the turmoil, with Calgarians helping each other out and working to keep their spirits up.

As the rain kept coming down, grocery store shelves were emptied of bottled water and ice, and people who were evacuated were left to imagine the imprint the flooding had made on their homes. In contrast, for those on higher ground, life seemed to continue as normal. People lined up for brunch and made courier deliveries.

But for the most part, Calgarians rallied – and coped. There were the people who offered free babysitting and animal care to strangers. Facebook groups sprang up overnight with the sole purpose of finding temporary homes for the displaced.

Debbie Mansfield's family is in the process of moving, and she offered up the use of the rental property they've vacated, but paid for until the end of the month.

"Because I can, because it's available. Why would I let it sit there when there's lots of people who are going to need it?" said the resident of Airdrie, a bedroom community just north of Calgary.

"I wouldn't want to stay in a shelter, to be honest."

As flood waters rose in the trendy neighbourhood of Mission, two utility workers gently tried to convince a woman to leave her third-floor apartment, even offering a piggyback ride through the water. Another nearby resident who had to evacuate, Salde Elizalde, smiled as she showed me the water running in the back alley, dangerously close to her basement apartment. She said she was just happy she had enough time to save her passport and other important documents.

Forgoing another chance to duck out for a rest, Mayor Naheed Nenshi explained the details of the road closures and the way I could get to Canada Olympic Park in the far west of the city. Workers handing out granola bars and yogurt at an emergency facility gently kept offering more food to keep moods up. Many of the Bridgeland-area seniors who had been kept awake all night – and were loaded onto buses for roundabout routes to a far-flung destination – grumbled about the lack of a place to lie down. But they also praised the shelter workers and the staff at their retirement home who brought them to a safe place for Friday's critical morning hours.

With many parts of the city still flooded, the scale of the inevitable cleanup is too large to even begin to contemplate. But Sue Phillips, director general for the Canadian Red Cross in Western Canada, said people are coming forward with major contributions, and the city's residents are providing homes for the tens of thousands of people who have been forced to flee from rising waters.

"We know within the city the number of people who are out of their homes, and that does not match up anywhere near the people you're seeing in shelters," Ms. Phillips said.

For these Calgarians, a place to rest – and be restive

Nobody knows yet who will foot the bill, but dozens of seniors evacuated from low-lying retirement complexes in the inner-city neighbourhood of Bridgeland now have a place to lay their heads – in a number of suburban hotels that opened their doors to those displaced by the Calgary floods.

After spending hours waiting in uncomfortable chairs at emergency evacuation shelters, the seniors left were either those whose families couldn't pick them up on a day of blocked roads and continued flood warnings, or those who didn't have any family.

Exhausted, wet, and sometimes trembling, the seniors made their way down the steps of yellow school buses, grabbed their walkers, and headed to a number of hotels for some much-needed rest.

Olive Norquay removed the plastic cover on her head, took a seat in the lobby and said she's astounded at the scale of the flood.

"I have never seen it rain like this," said Ms. Norquay, who was born in Calgary and has lived almost her whole life in the city.

But striking a pragmatic tone, the twice-widowed 90-year-old said she was happy to be in a warm, dry place until her daughter is off work and can pick her up. "There's not much you can do with a flood."

Arlene Adamson, chief executive officer of Silvera for Seniors, a non-profit housing organization, said hotels in Calgary graciously held their rooms for flood-displaced seniors. She said Silvera saw 600 people evacuated around 3 a.m. Friday from five of its facilities in Bridgeland, which is located in the northeast quadrant of Calgary. Nurses are on duty inside the hotels, Ms. Adamson added.

Ms. Adamson said, however, that the accommodation is not in the budget for the organization, which provides rental retirement homes for low-income seniors.

Still, she added, the decision to move the seniors was easy. "We can't have people sitting in chairs for three days."

There were those like Margaret Brady, 96, who said she hasn't had any sleep for 36 hours, but didn't have anywhere else to go once her seniors' centre was evacuated. Her husband and son died years ago.

"I have no one at all," she said. "But I have friends."


Linda Shea hasn't seen her house since she was forced to leave on Thursday, but she fears the worst. She has already hired a dumpster company and a contractor to renovate. And she's been thinking about going home, opening the front door and seeing the water rush out around her.

"Isn't that an awful thought?" Ms. Shea said. "I feel a bit ghoulish."

For Calgarians waiting out the massive floods, evacuating without knowing what they'll return home to has been difficult. Ms. Shea has seen many pictures online of her Roxboro neighbourhood – people going through homes with water up to their hips, couches floating in living rooms, a boat jetting through an intersection, trees that look like they're growing in a swamp rather than a wealthy urban enclave.

She has not heard anything from the city or police about the state of her own block. "We're just not getting a lot of news about what that looks like," Ms. Shea said. "I suspect it looks like our worst fears."

Ms. Shea's home made it through the last major flood, in 2005, unscathed. This time around, her family has been split by the evacuation. Her daughter's boyfriend – who was working planting trees in deluged Bragg Creek – took refuge in Calgary only to have to help Ms. Shea move a few hours later when Roxboro's mandatory evacuation order was issued. Ms. Shea's husband and daughter, who returned from the United Kingdom on Friday, could not make it from the city's airport in the northeast quadrant to the south-side house where Ms. Shea has found a temporary home. The two of them are staying at a friend's house on the north side of town, possibly for days.

"There's going to be worse stories out there," Ms. Shea said, resignedly. "Ours is typical."

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