Floodwaters recede in western Alberta, while people in the eastern part brace for worst

As floodwaters recede in western Alberta and residents return home to assess the damage, people in the eastern part of the province are heading for higher ground.

In Medicine Hat, thousands of people have left their homes as water levels rise on the South Saskatchewan River. The river isn’t expected to peak until Monday morning.

“This is going to be a very challenging time for Medicine Hat,” Alberta Premier Alison Redford said on a visit to the eastern city Saturday evening. “There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and people are going to be afraid. I want people to know we have the opportunity to get through this.”

In Banff and Lake Louise, the power is back after a transformer failure turned off the lights in the two resort communities for a few hours early Sunday morning.

TransAlta says its crews, with the help of teams from CP Rail, Fortis and Altalink, have repaired the damage at its Cascade facility in Banff National Park. The company says water that needed to be released from the Cascade plant got into the transformer causing it to blow.

TransAlta says the water release also forced the temporary closure of the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Canmore.

In Calgary, vacated neighbourhoods along the swollen Bow and Elbow Rivers are showing signs of life again as displaced residents start to trickle home.

Some are returning to properties spared by the flooding, but many are facing extensive repairs to swamped homes and businesses.

The city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, warns recovery will be a matter of “weeks and months,” the damage pricetag “lots and lots.”

The public got it’s first look inside the Saddledome Saturday. The home of the NHL’s Calgary Flames is flooded up to the eighth row of the lower bowl. Everything below — seats, boards, dressing rooms, and player equipment — is a total loss, says the team.

Elsewhere, there is erosion in the Inglewood area of the city and fears that a large chunk of the river bank along the Bow will be washed away.

PEI’s transport minister has called the city offering up engineers to ensure that Calgary’s bridges are safe, something islanders have special experience with.

The mountain town of Canmore was one of the first communities hit when the flooding began on Thursday.

Residents have been allowed to return to 260 evacuated homes, but RCMP say 40 more are too damaged to allow people back.

John Marriott lost his backyard when a raging river roared right up to the foundation of his house.

“It’s still a lot better than watching it flow away in the creek, which I thought it was going to be,” said the wildlife photographer on Saturday afternoon. “I don’t want to relocate but I guess you do what you have to do. It’s just a house.”

The town of High River is slowly draining, but large areas remain under water. It is currently locked down and it will be days before residents can return.

About 350 members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from Edmonton are assisting local RCMP in reaching homes that still haven’t been checked. Light Armoured Vehicles churn through submerged streets and Zodiac watercraft are being used to reach the hardest hit areas.

“We have a number of engineers with some boats, some diving capabilities, but really it’s a source of labour,” said Lieut.-Col. Nick Grimshaw, the Commanding Officer, PPCLI 1st Battalion,.

“We’re helping them get into areas that are inaccessible by normal means so we can use our assault boats to do that or our armoured vehicles to move through some of the tighter areas.”

Redford was also in High River Saturday and visited an evacuation centre in nearby Nanton.

”I met a little girl at an evacuation girl in Nanton … named Sienna and she was about five-years-old, and I said to Sienna ‘where do you live?’ and she said ‘I live in High River but I can’t go home because my house is filled with water, but someday I’m going to go home,'” the premier recalled. “I think that’s what will stick with me.”