Alberta in cleanup mode

A combine was among a variety of farm equipment used to evacuate residents of High River, Alta., last week when flood waters inundated the town. An evacuation order remained in effect as of Monday for all of High River.  |  Mike Sturk photo

$1 billion in provincial emergency funding | Ottawa will also contribute toward recovery

The difficult and expensive process of cleanup after Alberta’s worst flood in history began earlier this week.

The province announced $1 billion in emergency funding June 24 as a first phase in recovery from the damage inflicted in at least 25 cities, towns, rural communities and municipalities.

Government officials were not willing to speculate on the eventual cost of damage and cleanup, which saw massive flooding in Calgary’s downtown and riverfront regions, devastation in the town of High River and major damage to homes and infrastructure in many towns and rural areas along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

Four people are confirmed dead as a result of the flood and a fourth remained missing as of June 24.

The widespread flooding was caused by 280 to 340 millimetres of rain that fell in some areas within a 48 hour period June 19-22. Other regions saw greater or lesser amounts fall on already saturated land and run into the river system.

“It’s been shocking to see the unbelievable destruction and the powerful impact of these floods,” said Alberta premier Alison Redford, who toured flooded areas extensively June 21-24.

“We will live with this forever. I’ve seen an Alberta that I think few of us could imagine just a short time ago.”

Redford promised government support for recovery efforts and said the federal government will also contribute, although details of that were not available at press time.

“We know now that most of the losses that are involved were uninsurable, but I want you to know that that’s why we have a disaster recovery fund. It is there to address those gaps,” Redford said.

Initial direct support will be provided to residents who cannot yet return to their homes because of evacuation orders or flood damage. Adults who qualify were to be issued pre-loaded debit cards with up to $1,250 per adult and $500 per child.

Initial funds will also be used to provide food and clothing to those displaced and begin repairing roads, bridges and other infrastructure, the government announced.

The flood is the largest in provincial history in terms of its speed, scale and number of people affected.

“The complexities of the recovery and the rebuilding will be immense, but my message today is that your government is mobilizing and we will do what’s necessary to get the job done.

“We’re going to get it done regardless of the cost.”

Redford also promised protection for Albertans against price gouging and consumer fraud and said anyone who takes advantage of flood victims for personal gain will be prosecuted.

Provincial municipal affairs minister Doug Griffiths said June 21 that any government assistance would be intended to restore property to its pre-flood condition, and cautioned against any notions of profit-taking.

He said a blueprint from the devastating fire in Slave Lake, Alta., will be adapted for use in southern Alberta flood recovery.

Redford also appointed three ministers of regional recovery and reconstruction: Greg Weadick for the southeast region; Kyle Fawcett for the southwest region and Rick Fraser for High River.

The premier said the three will be “on the ground” in their respective regions “to make sure the communities get what they need, that they get it when they need it and that they have the tools that they need to rebuild.”

As of June 24, 23 Alberta communities and municipalities remained in self-declared local states of emergency.

About 10,000 people remained displaced from their homes in Calgary, another 13,000 were displaced in High River and 10,000 in Medicine Hat.

Many towns, communities and First Nations reserves faced full or partial evacuation. Gas and electrical services were affected in many areas and some were under boil water advisories.

Twelve highways were closed as of June 24, but efforts were underway to repair and reopen them.

Electrical outages, spotty cell phone reception and overloaded websites made it difficult to assess damage to cropland and rural agricultural infrastructure.

There were unconfirmed reports of livestock losses when animals were trapped by rising water.

Land along river bottoms has accumulated debris that will require cleanup.

Seeded acreage damaged or destroyed by flooding remained to be assessed after water recedes.

Traffic disrupted on Canadian Pacific Railway’s main line between Calgary and Vancouver has resumed after floods washed out parts of the track.

Crews repaired the rail on its main line June 24 and a portion of the track within Calgary was expected to be restored a few hours later.

Crews were expected to have a segment of CP’s south line to Lethbridge restored by June 27, said CP spokesperson Ed Greenberg.

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