Damage extensive from historic flood

Emergency aftermath | Officials begin to assess damage from flood that saw thousands evacuated

The worst flood in Alberta history has caused at least four deaths and inestimable property damage.

There are three confirmed dead in the High River area and an elderly woman was found dead in her apartment in inner city Calgary. There are no confirmed numbers of missing people who may have been stranded in their homes or did not report to evacuation centres.

The first flood warnings and evacuations started June 20 as southern Alberta rivers swelled because of heavy rain. By the next day, communities such as Canmore, Calgary and High River were overwhelmed with water and displaced people. In total, 27 communities along the western side of the province were in a state of emergency with the greatest damage hitting Canmore, Calgary and High River.

High River was abandoned and remained under a mandatory evacuation order as of June 24. Town officials hoped to build two berms and start draining water by June 25 but couldn’t say when residents could return.

Cargill Meat Solutions on the north side of town was not flooded but closed because it did not have fresh water to process cattle, said company spokesperson Brigitte Burgoyne in an email June 22.

“We will assess the situation on a daily basis to determine how soon we can start processing again,” she wrote.

Rancher Phil Rowlands, who lives near Longview in the foothills, said he and his family were safe but there was no electricity or telephone service to check on welfare of friends and neighbours.

“I am going to start back with a ham radio so I can talk with my buddies in the next disaster,” he said.

His parents are retired and living in High River. They had to be evacuated and left town in a commercial manure spreader. Other people were loaded on combines to flee the fast rising, dirty water from the Highwood River.

There are unconfirmed reports of lost livestock and damage to land.

“All of our water courses have changed. It has been pretty powerful, the power of nature once she is done,” Rowlands said.

Rockyview County, which surrounds Calgary on three sides. reports most damage was not as serious as the floods of 2005.

The Elbow and Jumping Pound watersheds were most affected, but most livestock was not on pasture so ranchers were able to monitor animals and keep them safe, said a county spokesperson.

Fencing near creeks and riparian areas has been lost, with many washouts near creek crossings, so pastures will need re-fencing.

Similar losses are still being evaluated throughout the south where public safety is a prime concern, said municipal affairs minister Doug Griffiths.

“Provincially, we still have to do inspections on roads and bridges and highways. You have to do an engineering assessment to make sure you have not created a sinkhole underneath,” he said June 23.

“We have a responsibility to Albertans to make sure we put them in a safe environment. We are saturated in the south end of the province. A 20 or 30 mm rain that comes down very quickly could turn into a flash flood. We are not out of the woods yet.”

Damage appears spotty in rural areas, and rural municipalities will be the first to assess and repair damage, he said.

The Bow and Elbow rivers flowing through Calgary were at three to five times their normal peak levels at the peak of the flooding. The towns of Banff and Canmore west of Calgary were cut off by flooding and mudslides. The Trans-Canada Highway was closed with only essential traffic allowed through four days later.

Other affected municipalities included Lethbridge, Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Cochrane, Sundre, Medicine Hat, the counties of Lethbridge and Rockyview and the municipal districts of Bighorn and Foothills.

The Siksika First Nation east of Calgary evacuated about 1,000 residents. RCMP report no one is being allowed back into homes and emergency water supplies are being distributed. Two of three bridges are lost.

The city of Medicine Hat evacuated 10,000 people, but flood dangers had passed by the evening of June 23.

Roads and bridges throughout the south have been damaged or destroyed. For road conditions, visit 511.alberta.ca/ab/en.html or www.drivebc.ca.

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