One of several communities under flood threat in southern Alberta started evacuating residents from their homes on Wednesday as rain continued to pour in much of the region.
The town of Claresholm said overland flooding had reached some homes and some sewers were starting to back up. There is no river close to the town of 3,800 about 130 kilometres south of Calgary. The nearest waterway, Willow Creek, is at least five kilometres away from the main townsite.
Town spokeswoman Karine Wilhauk said residents whose homes were affected were being offered shelter at the arena. The fire department was helping those who couldn’t make it on their own.
“We have some homes that are surrounded by water. We also have some homes that are actually underwater, so we’re trying to evacuate those people to our reception centre,” Wilhauk said.
“We’re asking everyone else to just stay off the streets. We’re just trying to deal with this situation. We don’t want to have any more problems.”
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Wilhauk said it had been raining on and off since Monday afternoon, but problems started after a heavy downpour early Wednesday that was “coming down in sheets.”
The rain had subsided since then, she said, “so we’re hoping our system is going to catch up. Once we get to that point where we feel like it’s not getting worse, we’re going to try to start pumping water.”
All schools were closed but students writing diploma exams were being bused from the evacuation centre to their schools.
The flooding comes as Alberta prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2013 flood. In total, 100,000 people had to flee their homes in southern Alberta last June.
Communities hit the hardest in that flood — including Canmore, Calgary and High River — are farther to the north of the area currently experiencing high water and are so far fine.
Claresholm Resident Phyllis Faulkner told radio station CHQR she watched as water poured into her basement, just as it did last year.
“I’m standing there. The water’s running in and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, going, ‘I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it,”’ she said.
“I’m going to lose everything again — my brand-new furnace is under water again. My brand-new hot-water tank is under water again.
“They’re done. They’re toast.”
The Blood reserve, the town of Cardston and Lethbridge County were also preparing residents for possible evacuations due to rising river levels.
States of emergency were also in effect in the Municipal District of Willow Creek, Crowsnest Pass and Medicine Hat, where the city was warning residents in a handful of neighbourhoods that they might have to leave their homes in the next 48 hours.
The city said it was expecting fewer evacuations than 2013 when about 10,000 people had to head for higher ground. But it warned that every flood is unique.
In the city of Lethbridge, there was no state of emergency, but the Oldman River valley was closed to traffic and people were being advised to stay away from riverbanks because they could be unstable. Sandbagging was underway at the water treatment plant and a handful of other areas at risk.