Stories and Podcasts
My Urban Adventure in Flooded Calgary, Alberta – June 2013
by Lorna Cheriton
Flying to Alberta, Canada in June to visit my parents and sisters, I had a number of people exclaim that they hoped I was not going to Calgary. A state of emergency had been declared in the city following historic flooding due to a record snowfall in the Rocky Mountains combined with an extremely rainy month. I was indeed headed for Calgary, where my sister Mary lives in Lakeview, a district so unaffected by the flooding that TV filming of the disaster in the other Calgary districts of Bowness and Elbow Park looked like images disasters from the opposite side of the world.
The first two days of our time together, Mary and I obeyed the authorities’ injunctions to stay away (so that emergency crews were not hindered by traffic blocking their way to flooded areas). But on Wednesday June 27, we rode our bikes to the deserted downtown area (power was out so most companies were closed). Stopping for a drink from our water bottles, we were alone in the plaza which is normally crowded.
Crossing to the Elbow River bike path, we discovered a river swollen to many times its normal size (even though it had obviously gone down considerably as evidenced by the collapsed banks and by the debris left high in trees and on bridges. A twisted and destroyed bike-and-pedestrian bridge was blocked by plywood and guarded by a policewoman, in case anyone was so foolish as to try to cross it. A few days before, canoeists had launched into the flood-level Bow River and had to be rescued, prompting the mayor to exclaim, with some vehemence, that he had thought it unnecessary but would now declare that “the river is closed and absolutely off-limits!”
On Thursday Mary and I drove across the city to her friend Heidi's home, concerned that Heidi and her daughter would be returning from Africa having learned of the flood only the night before when they regained Internet connections. We found streets muddy ...and parking at a premium, since city vehicles and people coming to help all needed spaces, and homeowners needed to keep access to the mountains of debris being hauled out from their homes if dump trucks were going to be able to haul it away. Residents had been advised to put signs in their windows telling what they needed. The normally quiet residential streets were as active as a festival although people were in “recovery” attire – the “uniform” being rubber boots, work gloves and with breathing masks over their mouths and noses.
At Heidi's we found a crowd – her co-workers, soccer team-mates and friends had hauled everything from her basement, spreading potentially salvageable items across the lawn and heaping non-salvageable trash into a mountain of muddy bulges in the driveway and edge of the street. Someone finished with the hose, so I coiled and carried the lengths to where I could hose down objects in the driveway and on the lawn. Car carrier, mirrors from the bar, liquor bottles, furniture, clothes, bikes and sports equipment ( even a silver tea set) - all were covered with a hard-packed coating of clay from the river. Later, a couple from an unaffected district approached us to offer help and spent several hours with us, peeling photographs out of clay and washing them in buckets where the water quickly turned as brown as the river. We had barely started work when people in the street approached us, offering food. I had brought a water bottle and several granola bars, but throughout our work, both adults and children from unscathed areas of the city brought bottles of cold water, fruit, cookies, sandwiches and muffins. Stations set up on street corners were laden with food, drink, work gloves, and masks, with porta-potties nearby.
On Friday evening, some young women came by inviting us to a neighborhood party where they promised Calgary's famous sausages would be grilled for volunteers. Meandering down to check it out, we crossed a plank over the Moat, a ditch whose depth had increased to 3 feet because of the flooding. An apparently abandoned lot had been set up with free beer, tables of food, and a large banner across the entrance embellished with the image of a cowboy hat and the message “This is how we giddy-up.” People climbed on a ladder to add their thoughts to the banner; others wrote their answers to questions posted on big poster paper tacked to the side of a building -