Mayor of High River appeals for patience: 'We have to make sure community is safe'

HIGH RIVER, Alta. – The mayor of flood-ravaged High River, Alta., says officials are close to announcing a timeline to begin allowing people back into the community to at least check the status of their homes.

“I can’t tell you how badly I want to have everybody back in High River,” said Emile Blokland. “But we have to make sure the community is safe before we let them return to the town.”

Blokland said the disaster that befell High River last week when raging floodwaters swamped the community, forcing the evacuation of 13,000 residents, is on a par with the wildfires that destroyed one-third of the northern Alberta community of Slave Lake in the spring of 2011.

In that disaster, evacuees were put on buses and driven around the town so that they could safely inspect the damage.

Slave Lake then staged its return of evacuees in three parts — first, essential workers such as hospital, utilities and municipal staff; then staff from businesses such as banks and grocery stores; and finally other residents.

In High River, about 300 people ignored the evacuation order and now many who left are pressing to be allowed to return.

Blokland said High River wants to be careful and simply isn’t ready yet.

“We do not have sanitary sewer, we have no water for those folks, when they get here we have no gas for their cars, we have no grocery store open, we don’t have a medical centre, we don’t have protective services for them, we don’t have a drug store for them. It is not safe to be in our community.”

Some have even threatened to go to court, but Blokland said he is too busy with trying to get the town back on its feet to even pay attention to that.

Tom Dekelver and his wife Kathy were hopeful they will be able to return home soon and are miffed at the people still there.

“That’s pretty dumb. It’s just making it worse for everybody else. It’s just not smart,” he said. “We understand you’ve got to get out of the way so they can get things back so we can go home.”

But Kelly Dennis isn’t sorry she stayed, maintaining she was able to save her home but having a generator pumping out the basement.

“Mould doesn’t occur right away,” she said. “It’s not letting people back in their homes to actually fend and get the water out of their basements within the 48 hours that’s the problem.”