Some residents in High River, Alberta will be allowed to return to their homes as of noon Saturday.
Friday’s announcement that some of the town’s 13,000 residents will be able to return after they were forced from their homes by a flood on Thursday, June 20, is part of a three-part plan to get residents back into their homes and to rebuild the town.
The first residents allowed back are those in the northwest portion of the town, north of the Highwood River. About 1,000 homes are in this area, which is home to as many as 5,000 residents.
From there, High River has been divided into quadrants, with residents in the southwest part of town looking at a three- to five-day wait to access their homes and those in the southeast looking at a five- to seven-day wait.
Many of the homes in the eastern part of the town remain underwater and officials are working to pump this water out. Those residents are looking at a three- to five-week wait before the area is deemed safe.
My parents’ home, in the southwest, is in that three- to five-day group.
Craig Carswell, one of my high school classmates, is one of those who will be going back to see his house in the northwest tomorrow. Unfortunately, his parents are in the furthest east section and their house is still in the middle of a lake.
“It’s awesome, but I feel pretty sick for my parents because it’s going to be a couple more weeks for them,” Carswell says.
He and his wife, Christine, have been volunteering in High River with pet rescues over the past week and they were able to see their home in the days after the flood. They know they have a basement full of sewage to deal with when they get back in.
Just because a neighbourhood is opened, it does not mean that all residents will be able to inhabit their homes right away.
Officials have tagged each home with one of the following categories, which they will share with the resident upon their return:
- Green: no damage, the home is immediately habitable.
- Yellow: some damage, minor clean up and repairs required. Home is habitable.
- Orange: damage requires extensive repairs and the home is not immediately habitable.
- Red: home is beyond repair and is uninhabitable. It must be rebuilt.
“While every house that we see may look safe on the outside, it’s not safe on the inside,” said Minister Rick Fraser, who was appointed to represent the town of High River during the rebuilding process.
Since the town ordered an emergency evacuation, residents have not been permitted to return. RCMP have guarded each entrance to the town and no one has been allowed in. So far, four residents have been arrested for trying to get into the town.
It’s unclear whether this more concrete timeline will ease tensions in the town between residents who want to be allowed in to begin cleanup and officials who say the town remains unsafe.
As of Friday evening, the province is organizing bus tours for residents who are not immediately able to return to their homes. The first tour will be at 7 p.m. and Mayor Emile Blokland said he would share more details of the tours with people who are living in evacuation centres in Blackie and Nanton.
Also Friday, the province announced that it would be taking over control of emergency operations. Up until now, these operations have been controlled by the town and supported by the province. Blokland said the decision to ask the province to step in was a difficult one.
“It was an extremely difficult moment in time,” Blokland said. “Fatigue is beginning to set in and just the stress that our staff is dealing with is just burdening them down. This announcement today is acknowledging that they have done a heck of a job.”