Residents given limited access neighbourhoods hard-hit by High River flood

HIGH RIVER, Alta. – Some people from the most flooded neighbourhoods in High River are being allowed to go in to assess their homes and pick up a few belongings.

Alberta reconstruction officials say they’ve managed to pump out water in the Sunshine Meadows district more quickly than expected and access is now possible.

“We’re going to allow people to go back to their homes to take a look … and our fervent recommendation is that you take a look at your house, you assess the safety of entering and grab critical belongings,” Shane Schreiber, head of the High River recovery task force, said at an update in High River on Thursday.

But he warned people that they should brace themselves because many of their houses are badly damaged.

“I just caution that it’ll be a bit of a shock,” Schreiber said. “Be prepared to see your house in a pretty shocking state, frankly.”

He advised residents to get advice from structural engineers as to whether their homes are safe to live in.

“Some of these houses you may be able to remediate them once you get that structural assessment, but many of them have been under water for a number of days.

“There’s no way you can go back to some of these houses right now.”

A bus tour was being organized for the adjacent neighbourhood of Hampton Hills — still under water — so that people could at least get a look at their properties.

Schreiber explained that nearly 500,000 litres are being pumped out of the Hamptons every minute — about 500 million litres a day — and levels are going down 15 centimetres a day. But the “lake” that the area has essentially become is at least a metre deep on streets and the first floor of buildings.

“That’s why we can’t allow residents back in. It’s still too dangerous,” he said. “Those floors, the construction materials have probably significantly deformed and there’s a very real danger of people going in their homes, falling through the floor and being trapped in a watery basement.

“We’re not willing to risk that.”

A major road that separates the two neighbourhoods has been turned into a dike and must hold, Schreiber said. That’s why traffic in and out of the Hamptons is being restricted.

“That dike is critical, because if we can’t maintain the integrity of that dike, the Sunshine neighbourhood could potentially reflood.” As it was, sewage was still backing up in parts of that district because of all the water in the Hamptons.

High River Mayor Emile Blokland praised volunteers who have worked side by side with citizens to help the town recover.

“Residents as they have returned to their communities have felt the weight of the world on their shoulders as they’ve faced the enormous task of cleaning out their homes and getting back to their daily lives,” he said.

“It’s all about community first, neighbours second and the me-me factor third. And we have to remember that as we move forward. It’s neighbour helping neighbour (to) get this community back on its feet again as quickly as possible.”

In Calgary, things were also starting to get back to some sense of normalcy on Thursday as everyone prepared for the Calgary Stampede. A state of emergency was lifted at 10:16 a.m. — the exact hour it was called 13 days ago, when the city and much of southern Alberta was hit by the worst flooding in the province’s history.