The Great Calgary Flood of 2013
Watching the power of nature flood my city and favourite mountain retreat was not on my bucket list
It has been a very trying 2 days. I watched in disbelief as my beloved mountain retreat, Canmore, AB, was washed away. I could not process the devastation and the destruction I was seeing in photos and on television. Then, High River started to feel the wrath of nature. A 40-minute drive from my house, I was in High River recently to visit a close friend in the hospital.
Then we started to feel the pinch in Calgary. Lots of rain, storm sewers overflowing, lots of Facebook wonderings about when was the last time we saw this much rain. That was 2005, but the difference was back then, we had time to prepare. It rained for 7 days and we watched the rivers (the Bow and the Elbow) gradually swell. We had time.
This week, it rained and then the flash floods just came. Wednesday night we all went to bed worrying about the small stuff. Thursday morning, we awoke to declared states of emergency in places we knew well and where we have friends.
The list just kept growing: Turner Valley, Bragg Creek, and then, Calgary.
Suddenly, the rules changed. The emotion shifted from places I knew to THE PLACE I LIVED. My old neighbourhood was one of the Calgary communities under mandatory evacuation. Businesses I frequent were suddenly in danger of losing everything. The worst feeling was not being able to do anything to help. We were told by Mayor Naheed Nenshi to avoid unnecessary travel, to stay home with our families, to watch a movie.
The Calgary Police Service did an amazing job of communicating via Twitter until the account got put into Twitter jail (irony!) for the high volume of tweets. Then Constable Jeremy Shaw took over with his private account and the twitterati got busy heckling Twitter Canada to reinstate the CPS account. It worked.
CBC was evacuated from their studio in downtown Calgary, so the late night news feed came out of Vancouver and was hosted by Ian Hanomansing (a huge favorite of mine and the man I feel should fill Peter Mansbridge’s shoes). Ian did a fantastic job of carrying the torch well into the night, pre-empting Coronation Street.
All schools were declared closed, a boil water advisory was issued then retracted, the number of evacuees was estimated to reach 100,000 (we peaked at about 75,000), and the list of mandatory evacuations kept growing.
I felt a duty to share the information on Facebook and Twitter, as did several of my friends and colleagues. It wasn’t until 1 am when I finally decided to stop updating my status, sharing, retweeting and hashtagging. Good thing too, since the community down the hill was put on evacuation notice at 1:30 (it was lifted at 2:00) and I would not have been able to sleep.
Friday morning, I was stunned by the photos of the wreckage. But I was equally stunned by the outpouring of support from my fellow Calgarians.
- Of the 75,000 evacuees, only 1500 were checked in at emergency shelters; the rest stayed with family, friends or perfect strangers who opened their doors.
- The politicians, the police, the health services, the firefighters, the EMS and the media did a spectacular job of keeping people safe and informed. They were rewarded with unexpected service from Calgary’s food trucks and anonymous pizza deliveries from the locals.
- So many people showed up at emergency shelters to volunteer that they were turned away.
- The groceries stores were lined up, shelves were being emptied and everyone was polite and courteous. The lady in line in front of me fled High River and had no idea if she still had a house.
- There were some reports of looting, but the police reacted quickly and reported that this was not the case.
By Friday evening, the sun had emerged and I could feel everyone exhale. We are not out of the woods, but at least we can hope it won’t get worse.