Cameron MacIntosh reflects on the Calgary flood
Reporter's notebook: June is always a dangerous time in the Prairies
There something different about this flood.
It's not the numbers of people dislocated.
It's not the fact that it hit a major city.
It's that no one saw this coming.
I have a lot of experience covering flooding...starting with the 1997 Flood of the Century in Manitoba. I was also based in Calgary when floods swept across southern Alberta in 2005. I followed the water as it coursed through the city and across the province.
Here's what I can tell you about floods here. June is always a dangerous time. Snow in the mountains is melting, swelling creeks and rivers as the water flows east across the prairies, towards Manitoba where it ultimately flows into Lake Winnipeg and then north to Hudson Bay.
This year, water levels here were high but manageable. There wasn't a lot of concern until unexpected rain hit... a lot of rain. It put those water levels to critical levels not seen in a century.
On Friday, my cameraman Gary Solilak and I flew over Calgary along the Bow and Elbow Rivers. It became very clear just how fast that water hit. Cars were abandoned in the middle of residential streets and in some cases, water was up the roofs. We could also see that houses were hastily evacuated, with no chance of trying to shore up a defence.
We saw it block after block — more than two dozen neighbourhoods completely flooded. In 2005, we thought the flooding was bad, we could have never imagined this.
Yesterday, we took a closer look on the ground in the neighbourhood of Sunnyside. A neat, little neighbourhood directly across the Bow River from downtown Calgary that feels tucked away. It's totally flooded. That's not stopping people from going back to check on their homes.
As we were walking through the water, we met a lady named Buff Smith. She wanted us to come into her home with her to take a look. We opened the back door to find the main level suprisingly dry a huge relief. Then, she looked at her basement. It was completely full right up to the top of the steps, water almost three metres deep and only a centimetre or so from flooding the whole main level.
In that basement, she had the things we all tend to hold onto: old photographs, documents, keepsakes collected over the course of a lifetime. She considered herself lucky. Her losses were unfortunate and personal but in grand scheme of it all, small.
Still, she has a lot to worry about. It could be a long time before she's permitted to go home. That water in her basement could still wreck her home, by undermining her foundation our potential causing dangerous mould. She has a lot of work and stress ahead.
For each of the 75,000 people that have been forced from their homes in this city, there is going to be a story like that. That's what floods do. They wash into our communities and sweep into our lives.
For some the losses will be superficial. Others will lose homes, businesses or be financially wiped out. Not to mention the associated stress that will hurt families as they start to recover.
The losses are only starting to be tallied here. They will be extensive. In a city that had no warning and no chance.