River overflows; High River saturated

 A woman is rescued by boat in High River, Alta. A state of emergency was declared in the town and residents were evacuated.  |  Mike Sturk photo

Community worst hit | Residents forced to leave until infrastructure repaired, water safe

HIGH RIVER, Alta. — Seeing is believing the tragedy that has befallen High River.

The worst flood in Alberta history has blitzed this town of 13,000, making it the hardest hit of the 23 communities that were in a state of emergency following heavy rains across the southern half of the province starting June 20.

High River remained under a mandatory evacuation order June 24 and no one was sure when people would be allowed back. Two people were rescued from their home June 23 and one person was arrested for trying to storm police barricades.

Mayor Emile Blokland estimated that as many as 1,000 people refused to leave, even after he issued another notice June 23. While some streets looked dry and the water had receded, he and RCMP staff sergeant Brian Jones said the entire community is a danger zone.

“They are hampering our recovery efforts. Every toilet they flush comes up somewhere else because our sanitary sewer system isn’t working,” Blokland said.

“We are on limited water and when they turn a tap on they are using a resource we need. They don’t realize we need to get the streets clear of mud, debris, cars and anything else.”

The water treatment plant is working, but activity was stalled because the Highwood River was not receding. Electricity is being restored, but the energy provider Fortis Alberta turned off the power in all homes for safety reasons.

Flood water spread across the town and was about 1 1/2 kilometres wide and five km long. It is contaminated with gasoline and sewage, said Jones.

“Until the sewer and lift systems are fixed, this water is contaminated.”

The RCMP and military personnel had checked 1,500 homes in a grid as of June 24 to see who remained behind.

That included rescuing 1,300 stranded pets. Building inspectors are touring homes and will rate them on a one to four point basis to determine which are habitable.

Interim housing was set up for those whose homes cannot be occupied.

The town is building two berms to contain the lake and start draining it by June 25.

One bridge has been washed away and engineers are checking others.

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