As Calgary dries out from flooding, High River not even close to rebuilding

HIGH RIVER, Alta. – As Calgary shores up and dries out, it’s still desperate times in the aptly named High River, the town hardest hit by flooding that has saturated southern Alberta,.

Some people in the community south of Calgary have refused to leave despite a mandatory evacuation order and others are angry they can’t get back.

The order has been in place since torrential rains last week caused the Highwood River to burst its banks and sent a river of water surging through much of the town of 13,000.

But RCMP and soldiers who did a door-to-door search of 3,337 homes found 303 people trying to stick it without any utilities or public services.

Police say two women had to be rescued. One was picked up by boat and the other by a Canadian Forces light armoured vehicle. Both women, say police, had indicated their situations were becoming “quite desperate” and appeared to be very distraught.

Alberta’s municipal affairs minister has little sympathy for those who remained behind and now may be running out of food and water.

“For those people who are in High River who refused to leave, we have low supplies of water. There is no sewer hooked up yet, so every time they flush the toilet it runs back into the street, and there’s no grocery store operating,” said a visibly angry Doug Griffiths.

“If they’re short of supplies they need to get out of town to allow the military personnel, police and emergency operation folks to restore the town.

“I’m not and the community will not direct … time, energy and resources for those who refuse to leave. If they care about their community and the people in it, they need to leave.”

Anger among some displaced residents has been simmering over the last few days.

On Monday, police said one drunken man brandishing a knife tried to get past officers at a security checkpoint. The 24-year-old demanded that he be allowed to return to his property. He was arrested and charges were pending.

On Sunday, some High River residents turned out for an RCMP briefing on the edge of the town.

“I have a business to run,” said one man. “I need my computers. We’re an international firm. I know my business wasn’t flooded and I need literally two minutes to get what I need.”

High River’s mayor is standing firm about not allowing anyone back in.

“Everyone has a reason why they want to be back in the community, but the logistics of making that happen are enormous, because we can’t let people into the community unescorted,” said Emile Blokland.

“There’s hundreds of people with a reason to come back into the community.”

In Calgary, bridges are reopening, public transit is improving and dried mud is being swept from streets, but the downtown core remains far from normal.

The city’s emergency management director, Bruce Burrell, said groundwater has been slowing cleanup down.

“We have a number of areas in the city where we’ve been doing pumping, and when we stop the pumping, they just fill right back up — the basements of the buildings, the parkades, the underpasses,” he said.

It’s a delicate balance between restoring power to residential communities and getting the economic heart of the city up and running, said Burrell.

He also said it’s important not to rush to flick the switch back on, even though electricity might be available in some areas. Doing that too soon could blow a transformer, potentially cutting off power for months.

“You’d really like to say ‘full speed ahead … we’re going to put the power on to that area’ and then the bigger problem we create is we then displace another 3,000 residents,” Burrell said.

“I don’t want to get back into housing additional people for long periods of time. I want to have people going back in and having a sense of normalcy as much as possible.”

— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary