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Flood 2013: One year later

A look at how Airdrie came together to help those in need during last year’s natural disaster

By: Sara Wilson

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jun 19, 2014 10:18 am

A volunteer at last year’s Empty Bowls Festival in Nose Creek Park tries to lighten participants spirits. The annual event that took place on June 22 turned into a fundraiser to help those affected by the widespread flooding.
A volunteer at last year’s Empty Bowls Festival in Nose Creek Park tries to lighten participants spirits. The annual event that took place on June 22 turned into a fundraiser to help those affected by the widespread flooding.
FILE PHOTO/Rocky View Publishing

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Flood Watch 2014

A Flood Watch was issued by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) on June 17 for the Castle River, Oldman River upstream of the Oldman Dam, Belly River, Waterton Lake, Lee Creek, Pincher Creek and Little Red Deer River.
A High Streamflow Advisory remains in effect for rivers in the Bow, Oldman, Milk and South Sask. River basin.
Water level rises between one and two metres were expected to occur during the week of June 16 based on the current weather forecast.
A high streamflow advisory warns that stream levels are rising or expected to rise rapidly. No major flooding is expected but there may be minor flooding in low-lying areas, according to the Province.
A rainfall warning was issued by Environment Canada on June 17 for Kananaskis, Canmore and the Ghost Lake area, areas east and south of Calgary, including High River, Okotoks, Pincher Creek and Lethbridge.
The City of Calgary Water Services started to lower the water level in the reservoir on June 16 to make room for the incoming flow. On June 17s the streamflow for the Elbow River was 33 cubic metres per second (cms) above the Reservoir and 40 cms below the Glenmore Dam. The Bow River flow in Calgary above the Elbow River confluence was 250 cms.
According to the City of Calgary, the seasonal norm for the Elbow River is 30 cms above the Glenmore Reservoir and 30 to 90 cms below. During the 2013 flooding event in June, the Elbow River above the reservoir peaked at 1,200 cms and at 700 cms below the reservoir. The seasonal norm for the Bow River is 70 to 400 cms.
As of press time, a boating advisory remained in effect for the Bow and Elbow Rivers, based on streamflows and debris.
For more information on advisories, river monitoring activities and flood recovery and preparation, www.calgary.ca/floodinfo

In 2013, as the water levels of the Elbow and Bow Rivers began to rise higher than ever before, it would only take a few days of non-stop precipitation to completely change the lives of 100,000 Albertans.

This week, marks the one-year anniversary of the 100-year flood that devastated the City of Calgary; the Town of High River; the Hamlet of Bragg Creek; The Siksika, Stoney Plains and Morley Reserves and carved out the banks of the Bow River running through Canmore causing homes to be washed away.

The country watched as hundred of thousands of people scrambled to save loved ones, pets and belongings.

First responders’ actions will be remembered for their heroic rescue of residents from roof tops in High River, as the flood waters submerged the town and tore through people’s homes.

Looking back, Albertans and many Airdronians came to the aid of those that lost everything, volunteers, food banks, businesses, politicians and regular citizens turned their homes into make-shift shelters, donated food and water and grabbed a shovel to help with the clean-up efforts.

“There’s still work to be done, but certainly everybody pulled together and did everything they could to rebuild,” said Wild Rose MP Blake Richards, who toured Exshaw, Canmore and Stoney Nation reserve when the flood waters hit.

“I was on the ground and it was almost shocking to be in the middle of it, it’s hard to image. It was heartbreaking, but it was also inspiring for me to watch everyone pull up their sleeves and dig in (to help).”

Local efforts

The Airdrie Food Bank, in response to the need within its jurisdiction and beyond its boarders, stepped up and handed out more than 8,000 pounds (lbs) of food in the weeks and months that followed to those that needed it.

“The flood hit the same day as our Empty Bowl Festival last year so what we did was donate all the money raised from the evening to those affected by the floods,” said Lori McRitchie, executive director of the Airdrie Food Bank.

“We raised $5,000 on June 22 and the day after, we donated it all.”

In addition, the food bank participated in the Pure County concert on July 22 at the Balzac Hall, where that event raised $15,000 for flood relief, donated 5,000 lbs of food to the Canmore and Cochrane Food Banks, 1,120 lbs of food to the Siksika First Nation, 140 lbs to Calgary’s Neighbourhood Link and 1,600 lbs to the Morley Reserve.

“Our neighbours aren’t just in Airdrie and Cochrane,” McRitchie said. “We didn’t really check requirements, we just gave out food to anyone that asked for it.”

She said the Airdrie community responded to the need and rallied together to help.

“It was humbling to see everyone help,” she said.

For Mayor Peter Brown it was the “generosity of spirit” that he saw from the community of Airdrie and surrounding areas that impressed him.

“The number of phone calls this office would get, ‘how can I help? what can be done?’ was just amazing to see,” Brown said. “We had staff members here that gave up a month’s worth of work just to go down (to High River) and help. The generosity of the people was something to see.”

Former Airdronian Tamara Carmell, who operates Room in a Box, an organization that provided more than 1,400 boxes to victims of the flooding in High River was among the more than 1,300 recipients to receive a Hero of the Flood award.

Each box was filled with enough goods for one room and was given to families in need as they rebuilt their lives in High River.

Carmell said the idea of Room in a Box came about as a way for her to help her cousin after her home was severely damaged in the flood.

“It was just supposed to be this small, little idea and it just snowballed,” she said.

She went to High River on July 5; two weeks after her cousin was forced to abandon her home.

Carmell said she thought if she could get together enough new items for one room in her cousin’s home, then maybe other family members could do other rooms and it wouldn’t be as much of a strain for her to recover.

The idea took off and soon expanded beyond Carmell’s family to friends and other people who wanted to help. She said she realized people were looking to her to connect them with families in need.

Other Airdrie Alberta’s Heroes of the Flood recipients include local businessman Al Jones, who also helped with Room in a Box, and the non-profit group Airdrie Moms.

There were over 1,300 nominations to the Heroes of the Flood program, which recognized the contributions of Albertans who went above and beyond to help family, friends, neighbours and even strangers recover.

The Canadian Armed Forces set up in the Plainsmen Arena (later moved to the Propak building) and the Main Street Firehall on June 22 to assist other communities affected by flooding.

At the request of the City of Calgary, the Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) provided assistance in the City of Calgary Emergency Operations Centre as well.

In addition, three pieces of AFD support apparatus and 12 safety code officers were sent in to assist.

George McDougall High School had to change the location of their Grad Reception on June 27 in lieu of flooding at the BMO Centre in Calgary.

The ceremony was changed to the Centre Street Church in Calgary.

The City of Calgary requested that Calgarians, businesses and regional customers such Strathmore, Chestermere and Airdrie limit their use of water, which The City of Airdrie adhered to, implementing a water ban on June 24.

Cleaning up

After the flood waters started to recede, the country rallied and according to the Canadian Red Cross donated a total of $42 million for Alberta flood relief.

To date the Red Cross has spent $27.5 million, which represents more than 65 per cent of the total.

“The Canadian Red Cross has assisted nearly 70,000 people affected by the Alberta floods last year for such basic needs as food, clothing and shelter,” said John Byrne, director general of Disaster Management for the Canadian Red Cross on June 3. “Recovery from a disaster of this magnitude is a long and difficult process and the Red Cross remains committed to ensuring people and their communities can face the future with confidence.”

According to Rocky View County (RVC) $2.39-million worth of damage was done locally by the floods – that figure was the result of 33 projects that needed to be completed from rebuilding bridges and roadways to wastewater systems mostly around the Bragg Creek area.

The County received the requested amount of $2.39 million to complete the projects.

The Province has allotted $81 million to restore damaged recreation trails and pathways, day-use areas and campgrounds in the Alberta parks system, and reduce the risk of future flood damage.

Major trail networks surrounding Bragg Creek will be evaluated to assess the damage, that process is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The Backcountry Trail Flood Rehabilitation Program – announced June 5 - will restore priority trails and trails systems along the eastern slopes for motorized and non-motorized recreational users.

The $10-million project is expected to be completed in 2016.

Flood funding

Provincially, over the last year, the Alberta government provided more than $191 million in disaster assistance to municipalities and First Nations rebuild

The government distributed $70 million in immediate support as preloaded debit cards or cheques to more than 56,000 Albertans forced from their homes, a week after the flood waters had receded.

The Province also handed out $216 million in Flood Recovery Erosion Control grants to help rebuild and reinforce river banks in flood-impacted communities; 160 projects have been approved at a total of just over $200 million.


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