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After the High River flood

The province promised to pay for flood cleanup, but with only a trickle of money, residents are struggling


 

Allison Pedersen and her sons Brodie, 1, and Karson, 3. (Photo by Chris Bolin)

In the days after southern Alberta saw the worst floods in the province’s history, residents returned to dig sewage and river mud out of their homes. It was back-breaking work, but there was hope as streets filled with mountains of mucky belongings. Premier Alison Redford promised her government would do “whatever it takes” to rebuild the homes and communities damaged in the June floods.

These days, hope is fading in High River, the province’s hardest-hit community, where thousands of residents in the town of 13,000 remain displaced, waiting for government money to rebuild. When the money finally comes, many are certain it will not be enough. “Ever since Ms. Redford gave her pretty speech about looking after us all and helping us to recover, all we’ve heard from them since is what they’re not going to do,” says High River resident Carla Schmidt. “I feel really stupid now. I was defending. I was saying, ‘Ms. Redford said she was going to help us.’ ”

Carla sits beside her husband, Ron, in their garage where he just reopened his barbershop. The garage is in better shape than their 100-year-old home and attached business, which is stripped down to the frame. The home was paid for, the nest egg for the couple and their two adult daughters, both of whom have Down’s syndrome. A contractor said the Schmidts need at least $164,000 for repairs. The government’s Disaster Recovery Program—the DRP as it’s known in town—said the family will get $18,000 for the business and $30,000 for the home. They’re still waiting for the cheque. A friend launched an online fundraising campaign for the Schmidts to help cover the shortfall. So far, they’ve received more than $5,000 in donations.

It’s impossible to tell exactly how many in High River are still displaced. There are more than 1,000 people in Saddlebrook, temporary trailers in a dusty lot north of town. Like many, the Schmidts have relied on the generosity of friends. Others live with relatives, in one of the many holiday trailers parked on the street, or they are back in partially finished homes—some without furnaces. Unfit-for-habitation notices remain posted on doors. Downtown, most businesses are shuttered.

Disaster Recovery Program money is starting to flow. The government has made more than 2,300 payments across the province, worth $11.2 million. (More than 8,000 people applied.) Rick Fraser, the government minister appointed to oversee High River, knows people are frustrated and says the government is pushing to get money out. “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that this was not going to be an overnight process,” says Fraser. “Part of my role, where we’re at, is creating the right expectations.” As residents wait, the government partnered with the Red Cross to get furnaces and hot-water heaters in homes.

In the Hampton Hills neighbourhood, Allison and Kristian Pedersen’s home sat in a stagnant lake of water for 18 days. After a 94-day cleanup and drying process, they’re ready to rebuild the house they lived in for a year with their two young boys. There is one problem: money. “I’ve been crying today,” says Allison, as she stands in her living room, which is stripped to the frame. She points to a dip in the floor where the main beam is sagging. It needs to be replaced. Allison says it will cost at least $50,000 to repair her home; that’s with her extended family providing much of the labour. The tears stem from a conversation earlier that day, when a government employee said she should prepare to receive just a fraction of the money she asked for. “We’re scared right now and we’re ready to walk away, but we don’t know what to do,” she says.

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Up the street from the Pedersens, Kristi Brehon and Jamie Ellice stand where their fireplace used to be, the spot where Ellice proposed just eight months ago, on the day the couple moved into the brand-new home. Like the Pedersens, Brehon and Ellice’s home is stripped. A crack above the doorframe in the master bedroom is visual proof of the two ruined main beams in the basement and two more that are damaged. Their builder estimates it will cost $161,000 to repair the home. As they wait to see how much the government will provide, words like bankruptcy and foreclosure are starting to enter their vocabulary. “We’re willing to absorb some of the costs, but if we’re $100,000 out, then we won’t fix our house,” says Brehon.

Amid much uncertainty, one thing is becoming clear: not everyone in High River will have homes rebuilt, as the government said. “They over-promised,” says Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Party Opposition leader who is also the MLA for High River. “If they had been more modest in what they were offering, I think they would have kept expectations down, but then they raised expectations and weren’t able to deliver.”

Kristi Brehon, 28 and her finance Jamie Ellice, 35, stand in the basement of their damaged High River home. (Photo by Chris Bolin)

The people who are moving back into their homes didn’t wait for the government. One block from the Pedersens, Catherine Smith and her husband, Matt, had water up to their main floor. Their insurer refused to cover them. When they got access to their home 21 days after the flood, a rainbow of blue, orange and yellow mould was halfway up the main-floor walls. Catherine, on maternity leave with a two-month-old baby and a three-year-old, turned to the funding website Gofundme to ask for help. The family raised about $15,000 from donations. “That webpage is the only reason we are going to move home before DPR pays us,” Catherine says. Matt, an electrician, is well-connected to other builders who donated supplies or labour.

Even as the luckier residents move back in, worries remain. The next flood season is just eight months away, and dikes and berms that were destroyed in June must be rebuilt in a short time frame. The next two months will be tough on High River, predicts MLA Danielle Smith, as residents realize they might only get 50 or 60 per cent of the government money they were planning on. “We’ve had a false sense of progress because we’ve had long days and warm nights. Now that we’re facing winter, if people don’t have their electrical panels redone, and their hot-water tanks and their furnaces and they can’t move back into their homes—we’re really going to see a lot of the anger coming out.”


 

After the High River flood

  1. And yet they’re Con both provincially and federally……

    • Redford is a Liberal in PC clothing.

      Not to mention it’s Smith’s riding.

      • Doesn’t ever matter who is in power…..things like this take time.

        • Go say that to the home owners.

          Good luck.

          • I have no doubt they’re angry and upset…..but the point remains. The parties are much the same no matter what the rhetoric. Occasionally you get a leader who stands out [as good or bad] but on the whole nothing changes.

            Cons provincially and federally….and yet not one bit faster than Libs would have been.

          • The parties are in no way the same.
            One is a stale group with a sense of self-entitlement, and out of touch with Albertans.
            The other, is not.

            You can’t tell the difference between provincial and federal politics, I see.

            Using your flawed reasoning, the federal Libs and Ontario Libs are a train wreck.

          • I said Alberta is Con both provincially and federally….so there is nothing here to blame the Libs for.

            And two Alberta Con parties are the same….one just has more experience at governing.

          • Again, they are NOT the same.

            Redford is a Liberal in Conservative clothing.
            Look at her actions and policies.
            Not very conservative are they?

            You might want to do some reading of the party’s platforms and policies.

            How can you lump a party that hasn’t governed the province, in with one that has for decades?
            It’s disingenuous.

          • I haven’t the slightest interest in either party…..one that’s been in for as long as the Cons should be tossed on principle….and the books examined.

            But not tossed for one as teaparty as Smiths. That would be going from the frying pan into the fire.

            However…..and pay close attention here…..I said Alberta was Con both provincially and federally….and are still waiting on payments.

            There is no blaming Libs for this one….as Libs AREN’T INVOLVED.

          • “I haven’t the slightest interest in either party…”?

            Yet, here you are condemning them all in one, fell swoop…

            “…one that’s been in for as long as the Cons should be tossed on principle…”?

            Using your flawed logic, I bet your relationships don’t last too long.

            Teaparty?
            LOL!

            Again, please go do some RESEARCH on the difference between FEDERAL and PROVINCIAL politics.

            We’re lucky the Liberals are no where near this.
            They’d still be looking for the root causes.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • Don’t go away mad, just go away, schooled.

            Lay off the bong.

  2. To the residents of High River;

    Expect the government to come forward with the money when the RCMP is held accountable for the post flood illegal search and seizures.

    In other words, don’t hold your breath.

    • There was nothing even remotely illegal about the seizure of unsecured arsenals left unattended by their completely irresponsible owners.

      • This comment was deleted.

        • I know perfectly well what I’m talking about, and in a disaster situation in which looting is a real possibility, to leave firearms in unlocked and unsecured areas is to offer them to potential looters. As to kicking in doors, they were doing that anyway to verify that people were not trapped in houses. It’s very much my Canada and gun maniacs like you have no place in it.

          • well lets see, gun properly stored and secured and still taken>>>>well frank us gun maniacs like u describe us are what gave u ur god given freedom of speech to spew ur crap…..if it was not for most of who served past and present you would be speaking german or farsi….that’s my rant, and yes numb nuts, im from high river, and no they did not get my guns…..they were in a steel vault cemented to the floor….but they did try, the dumbasses….
            Peace…through superior firepower!

          • Wrong.

            They went in a week late.

      • There wasn’t a thing remotely legal about what the RCMP did.

        Read the firearms act.

      • It doesn’t seem like Allison Pederson is overly concerned right now about the guns temporarily stolen by the RCMP. Odd as it may be, she seems to have larger matters to deal with at this time.

  3. I feel sorry for anyone who has a flood in their home. I really do. It can happen under the right circumstances almost anywhere. But this town is named “High River”. Why would you build your house in a town that is named for its floods?? At some point, common sense should prevail. At some point, it’s no longer the community’s responsibility to bail you out of the consequences of your personal choices.

    • Please Google High River and read the history before you open your mouth and blab your ignorance please. Just in case you don’t:

      “In 1905, when Alberta became a province, the village was incorporated as the town of High River. The name is taken from the Blackfoot word “Ispitzee” which means “high” and refers to the high cottonwood trees which grew along the banks of the river”.

      • Thank you Karenmain!!! you just “served” this idiot. I am from High River and I experienced nature’s wrath to the Nth degree with my two small children in tow. I was trapped, terrified and alone with my children. SLGAM you are one of those people that chooses to NOT make a difference in people’s lives. You chose ignorance over fact and like to sit and re-read your slop and pat yourself on the back for being so “clever”.

    • I’m actually from High River – it’s still my hometown and my family lives there – and I can speak on behalf of many that hearing this absurd argument of “why live in a town called High River?” completely baffles me – do people not research where the name comes from before believing their assumption? To believe that a town is named that because the river on occasion floods certain parts of town and then to assume that the people of High River have no common sense is ignorant.

    • Slgam,
      Please keep in mind that a town of 13000 can not statistically be comprised entirely of idiots. The area that was hardest hit, the Hamptons, should have never flooded because it is a considerable distance from the river. Your remarks are heartless and cruel. My husband and I moved to the area almost 8 years ago- after the record breaking 2005 flood. When we chose High River we considered the flooding and we purchased a house that had never flooded. We chose not to live in Okotoks because we felt the culture in High River made it the best place to raise our daughter. The experience of the last few months has reinforced that belief. We live in a town full of people who have helped and supported each other and chosen to forge ahead and rebuild our community. I invite you to come to our town and speak with some of the residents and experience the true beauty of High River before making any more harsh and misguided comments. Please keep in mind that a natural disaster can strike any community. I survived the 1987 Edmonton tornado – a tornado can strike any community. I hope you never experience a tornado, flood, hurricane, tsunami or any other natural disaster especially if you have young children.

    • Slgem, my neighbourhood, the Hamptons and the adjacent community called Sunrise are destroyed by the flood. We live 3 km away from the river, we are not in a flood zone of any designation. At least one of the families featured in this article live in the Hamptons. I will not try to top what Karenmain schooled you on, but why don’t you come to my house next weekend. I will be there for one of my weekly visits, and I will give you a tour of the devastation, not only to the Hamptons but the entire town. The only thing you will be sorry for is the ignorant and insensitive comments you just wrote in public.

    • I’m certainly no laissez-faire do-everything-at-your-own risk type, but it certainly brings up questions of what role the public purse should play as an unpaid homeowner’s insurance fund, doesn’t it?

  4. I hate to say it, but it’s really not the government’s responsibility to pick up the tab when bad things happen. Or should the government build new houses for people living in crummy bachelor pads in Edmonton?

    • This comment was deleted.

      • Those rural Albertans, always looking for a handout . . .

        • Yeah…. Mayor Bronco of URBAN Calgary was never at the legislature whining for more money when he was in office for seven long years.

      • And, incidentally, we’ve only given Haiti $1 billion since 2006.

    • Who allowed the building permits to be issued, and zoned the area for residential housing?

      Having said that, High River has a history of flooding.

      It’s a mess all around.

  5. Injustices happen in the world every day. It’s best to be proactive about the issues versus complaining, or worse, passively whining.

  6. Maybe I am being naive but when someone tells me they are going to do something, I expect them to do it. A person has paid taxes for 50+ years, with some of that money going into a jar marked Disaster Relief Program. One day, that person loses a house in a natural disaster and needs to get some money out of that jar. The instructions on the jar say this money is to help ‘return the space to a functional, basic level of service’, so a person would expect enough money to help provide a roof, a floor, walls and a ceiling, heating, plumbing, power and water. The person is given $20,000.00. What can a person build for $20,000.00? You can’t even buy a mobile home for that amount of money.

    I think the directions on the jar are misleading. I also don’t think the DRP was set up to deal with disasters like the one experienced in Alberta this past June.

    In case anyone is interested in meeting the family with the two Down’s Syndrome girls, you can read more about them at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/schmidty-s-tonsorial-parlour

  7. This was a terrible flood that hurt a lot of good people. Being the most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history, it will strain the pockets of a government when the needs are so large and so immediate.
    As usual in my experience, the insurance companies will walk away whenever they can and when they can’t they will raise premiums.
    To come on here and hurl abuse at each other serves no purpose. Instead take a few minutes to consider the needs of this community, and, where you can, do a little something to help.

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