Fire Fighting in Canada

Headlines News
Alberta flooding forces evacuation of downtown Calgary

June 21, 2013, Calgary – Alberta's largest city was swamped Friday by floodwaters that submerged the first 10 rows of the Saddledome hockey arena, displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core.

June 21, 2013
By The Canadian Press

June 21, 2013, Calgary – Alberta's largest city was swamped Friday by floodwaters that submerged the first 10 rows of the Saddledome hockey arena, displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core.

"Get away from the river now!" a police officer in a helicopter bellowed to residents in the low-lying Calgary neighbourhood of Sunnyside as they surveyed torrents of water that invaded their homes and sent everything from garbage cans to cars floating away.

Communities throughout southern Alberta continued to fight a watery onslaught that began with torrential rains Wednesday night. From Canmore and Banff in the mountain parks through to Calgary and points east, overflowing rivers continued to wash out roads and bridges, inundated homes and turned streets into dirt-brown tributaries thick with smashed trees and furniture.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on his way to tour the hardest-hit areas with Premier Alison Redford.

Advertisment

Redford said Harper has already promised she'll have Ottawa's full support for rescue and recovery efforts as the province struggles to deal with the deluge.

Calgary was dealing with a double whammy of overflowing water from two rivers that run through the city and converge downtown.

An estimated 75,000 residents in 25 neighbourhoods along the rivers had already been ordered out of their homes and, early Friday afternoon, that order was extended to the entire downtown.

About 350,000 people work in the downtown, but only a small fraction of them were there Friday. Office towers were ordered closed before the high water took hold.

City officials confirmed water had swamped the interior of the Saddledome, home to the NHL's Calgary Flames.

It was up to the roofs of the chuckwagon barns at the grounds for the world-famous Calgary Stampede fair, which begins in two weeks.

Residents were left to wander and wade through streets waist-deep in water.

"In all the years I've been down here, I've never seen the water this high," said Sunnyside resident John Doherty.

"I've got two antique pianos in the garage that I was going to rebuild and they're probably under water," he said. "We're shell-shocked."

About 1,500 evacuees were in emergency shelters, while the rest found shelter with family or friends, said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The flood was forcing emergency plans at the Calgary Zoo, which is situated on an island near where the Elbow and Bow rivers meet. Lions and tigers and other exotic carnivores were being prepared for transfer, if necessary, to prisoner holding cells at the courthouse.

Schools and court trials were cancelled and residents urged to avoid downtown. Transit service in the core was not running. Power and gas were shut off to affected areas, but some homes not in the water zone also lost utilities due to the way the system is set up.

Nenshi said the situation was under control as much as it could be.

He explained that water levels on the Elbow River had crested and were slowly going down.

"That doesn't mean there won't be another peak as surge waters come, but it does mean today, at this moment, we're slowly seeing the numbers go down," he told a news conference.

He suggested that levels on the Bow River – which, in Nenshi's words, looked like an ocean – would remain steady for the rest of the day as long as conditions didn't change.

It had been a wet week throughout much of Alberta, but on Wednesday and Thursday, the Bow River Basin was battered with up to 100 millimetres of rain. Environment Canada's forecast called for more rain in the area, but in much smaller amounts.

More than a dozen towns declared states of emergency. Entire communities, including High River and Bragg Creek, near Calgary were under mandatory evacuation orders. The water washed out roads and bridges and flooded underpasses. Trains were running over bridge decks just inches above the water line.

No deaths have been reported since torrential rains hit the region Wednesday night, although one woman swept away with a mobile home near Black Diamond was still missing.

RCMP Sgt. Patricia Neely said officers were also investigating a report of two males floating near High River.

"We had a report, and it was a credible report, that somebody had seen two male bodies in the river. Now we have not recovered any bodies. We have no reports of missing persons, but we are definitely investigating this as a credible sighting."

One of the hardest-hit areas was High River, where it was estimated half the people experienced flooding in their homes. In some houses, water was halfway up the front door.

Military helicopters plucked about 30 residents off rooftops. Others were rescued by boat. Some swam for their lives from stranded cars, while still more were ferried to safety in large dump trucks, front-end loaders and combines.

Phone service was cut off and cellphone coverage was spotty.

A spokesperson for federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay said hundreds of soldiers were being deployed to the flood zone.

High River resident Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta's Opposition Wildrose party, posted on Facebook that she spent much of Thursday sandbagging at the hospital as floods swamped the town.

"Rescued by some guys operating a manure spreader at about 7 p.m. We spent two hours picking up people from their homes. It was wild and frightening," she wrote.

Farther west, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, pictures from the mountain town of Canmore depicted a raging creek-turned-river ripping at house foundations.

A spokeswoman for the town, where hundreds were forced from their homes, said Cougar Creek had changed its course several times and was heading to a new neighbourhood.

"There's a lot of debris in the creek and if the debris gets backed up and piles up … then the creek re-routes itself very quickly around that debris," said Sally Caudill.

Officials were also ordering residents out of parts of Banff.

Redford, speaking to reporters in Calgary, promised the province will help flood victims put their lives back together and provide financial aid to communities that need to rebuild.

She called the flooding an "absolutely tragic situation" and admitted to personal concern for her constituency of Calgary Elbow, which lies along one of the rivers raging.

Redford said she visited the area Thursday night.

"I took a look at property and community down there, and I've got to tell you: standing on a bridge, in the dark, when the power is out, listening to the roar of the river is terrifying."

The premier warned that communities downstream of Calgary were yet to feel the full force of the floodwaters.

In anticipation of that, the city of Medicine Hat in the province's southeast declared a state of emergency. Officials expect the South Saskatchewan River to crest on Saturday.