Alberta flood: an eyewitness account

Freelance writer Wendy Dudley lives hillside at Millarville, Alta., and this is the creek below her home. It is normally the width of a ditch, cutting through a pasture. Her farm dog, Zuni, is miffed at where the field went. 
| Wendy Dudley photo

Uprooted trees are jammed against my fence posts, tugging at the barbed wire, and the raging water is taking everything with it: power poles, machinery, sheds, homes.

My creek, normally the width of a ditch, now stretches across the valley, bulldozing through the heavy spruce. All around me farm land is flooded, people evacuated, tractors overturned, small town grocery stores submerged. Ranches and farms with no power, no cell phone service, no internet.

My livestock — four donkeys and a mule — are jittery. They are seeking refuge in the three-stall shed they moved to after their pole shed flooded. The swollen rivers have taken over the streets of the nearby towns of Turner Valley and Black Diamond. No one can get in or out, as the bridges are gone.

I have no TV, and am in a dead cell phone zone. At least I have a battery radio. And if this isn’t enough of a nightmare, there is a burst sour gas pipeline only 20 minutes away, ruptured when a falling tree punched a hole in the pipe.

Helicopter rescue photos

Wendy Dudley photographed a helicopter rescue near Millarville June 20. Click the image above to see all her photos. | Wendy Dudley photo
Wendy Dudley photographed a helicopter rescue near Millarville June 20. Click the "Helicopter rescue photos" link below to see all her photos. | Wendy Dudley photo

My adrenaline surges whenever I hear the beeping emergency signals that break in over the radio. My entire rural municipality is in a state of crisis.

If I’m on edge now, it’s just a fraction of what I experienced when this system swept in, contorting my aspens, tossing branches like kindling, the lightning igniting the skies. When the blustery drizzle began, I went to the barn to clean it so that the livestock would have dry ground for the night. It didn’t seem that bad.

But within five minutes, I was trapped. Saplings bent to the ground, the lightning and thunder cracked and slammed. There was no escape. Lucy, my mule, tore inside, trembling. As the bullets of rain pounded the tin roof, she ran back outside, racing down the hill to the shed where the rest of the herd were hunkered. As she galloped, her slick back was illuminated by the lightning. I was screaming at her to hurry, to dance through the currents.

Now I was alone, no other heartbeat with me, just my racing pulse. I couldn’t escape.

The fork and sheet lighting were flashing from every direction, the thunder bellowing in rolling waves, as the rain drilled holes in the soil.

The earth shook. I crouched low to the ground, away from anything metal, and away from the meshed windows and open door. I covered my ears, as the sound was deafening, the wind and rain tugging at the roof. Was this a tornado? Stop it, I screamed. This will surely pass.

Do not create a negative charge in this electrical avalanche. Think positive. You are strong. This land, this crazy weather has shaped you, blessed you. Do not cave.

I thought how the old cowboys said the only thing that truly scared them was being caught out in the open in an electrical thunderstorm. I now knew why. This is what causes horses to stampede, to do crazy things. This is what kills cattle that bunch up along wire fence lines, terrified, and then die from electrocution.

I kept low, my feet together, and prayed that if lightning struck the roof, it would travel to the ground through the metal siding. I took off my jacket with its metal snap buttons. I hoped the donkeys were not standing under the trees. Thank goodness, they don’t wear metal shoes.
I thought of my friend Paul, living at creek side down in Millarville, his pastures plenty with lambs, calves, and colts. Where was he? Had he already moved his stock?

Ninety minutes had passed and I was exhausted. But there seemed to be a break.

I counted. There was at least a minute between lightning strikes. I took deep breaths, spurred myself, and then sprinted, thanking the Big Guy in the sky for giving me wings to fly.

A day later I feel helpless, surrounded by so much destruction.

Down in Millarville people trapped in a tractor outside their farm had to be rescued by helicopter. And yet, in this maelstrom, I am thankful.

I’m thankful that my home is still above water, that my animals are ok, that, so far, I have heard of no loss of life.

Destroyed fences and broken dreams can be fixed.

Wendy Dudley is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer living on relatively high ground near Millarville, Alberta

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