CALGARY – The number of soldiers helping out in flood-ravaged Alberta is about to be reduced.
The Canadian Forces mobilized 2,300 troops, including a number of helicopters and several light armoured vehicles, when vast swaths of southern Alberta were devastated by heavy flooding last week.
In hard-hit High River, south of Calgary, soldiers were credited with rescuing 600 people who were stranded on their rooftops when the Highwood River burst over its banks, trapping residents in their vehicles and their homes.
Alberta’s municipal affairs minister told reporters Monday evening that much of the threat has passed.
“The urgency of the situation has been reduced,” said Doug Griffiths. “We don’t have flood waters coming down the river and we’re not sandbagging or anything like that.
“Our military has a lot of talent and a lot of specific skills that they bring to the table, a lot of unique equipment they bring to the table but it would be inappropriate to abuse those resources or to have some of the best trained military force in the world standing around and waiting to see if there’s anything else they can do.”
Brig.-Gen. Christian Juneau said the situation is now stable and there is a potential to move from emergency response to the consequence management phase.
“As a result we are in a position to draw down some of the forces from some of the key areas,” he said.
“I think the first group of soldiers that we are going to send back home will be something like 500 to 700. We’re still doing the estimate…but again over the next 24 hours we will see some people going back to Edmonton and reset, refit and be ready to be launched again if required.”
Some soldiers will likely remain in hard-hit areas such as High River, Canmore and, for the time being, Medicine Hat.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the troops have done “yeoman’s service” since being deployed last week but it is now time to “draw down” the numbers that are out there.
“They’re no longer doing search and rescue. The Canadian Armed forces will be transitioning more to support in areas such as power and water capabilities as opposed to search and rescue,” Kenney said.
He stressed the military is not in the business of service provision, such as pumping water out of people’s basements.
“We’ve been getting a lot of questions about whether we can send these nice soldiers to people’s homes to help them clean up,” said Kenney. “I want people to understand that in terms of the expectations they place on them.”