HIGH RIVER, Alta. – Some Albertans are angry at having to sign safety waivers before being allowed to return to their flooded homes — after being kept out for more than a week over the same concerns.
“My question is, if we had to sign a waiver, why weren’t we allowed to sign a waiver 10 days ago to get in here and try to save our homes and property?” Floyd Langenhoff of High River asked Tuesday.
Disaster officials say the waivers are meant as much as a warning as they are legal instruments.
Rapidly rising water from the Highwood River forced the evacuation of the entire community of about 13,000 on June 20. Emergency officials kept evacuees out until this past weekend. They said a town without power, water or any services to speak of was just too dangerous.
Residents were concerned that the longer the cleanup was delayed, the worse the damage would be.
Evacuees began returning on Saturday, but before they were given their authorized passes, they were presented with a waiver drawn up by the municipality.
“We had to sign a waiver absolving basically everybody involved of any kind of responsibility and taking responsibility solely on ourselves if anything happens here, if we’re killed by mould or fall in a sinkhole or whatever the hell they’re worrying about,” Langenhoff said.
He was standing ankle-deep in sludge in the basement of his father’s home, where floodwaters filled the basement to the ceiling.
“There’s even mud in the furnace ducting,” said Langenhoff, a former town councillor.
Langenhoff also complained that homeowners were only allowed to bring in two visitors to help them — regardless of the scale of the cleanup.
“How can you possibly have a disaster like this and only be allowed two visitors to come in and help you? It’s absolutely ludicrous.”
That restriction was lifted Tuesday by the provincial government, which said volunteers now have full access to at least three areas of the town.
But parts of High River remain under metres of water. Officials have said it could be another five weeks before some people will be able to go home.
Provincial operations spokesman Mike Deising said residents are being allowed back to their property as soon as possible.
“We are always looking at ways to open up new sectors.”
Deising reiterated earlier comments from officials, who said they had to be sure real threats had been removed before permitting people to go home.
“If there was still six feet of water on some of the streets and we allowed residents to return, there could have been some significant issues,” Deising said. “What we’re doing is making sure the areas are dry, the streets are cleared, there are Dumpsters for garbage removal and they have the ability for the homes to be assessed.”
The waivers were required because they forced people to consider possible consequences before they entered the town, he said.
“You have to make sure that residents know what they are getting into and the waiver form is a method to do that.”
High River’s northwest and southwest sectors, including its business corridor, have been opened. The central section is expected to open up Wednesday.