Falling between the cracks after High River flood
High River couple with baby on the way struggle to fix home they'd just purchased when flood hit
High River, Alta. residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki have been blogging their experiences and the experience of friends, family members and neighbours during and after the floods hit southern Alberta.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the cracks that people fear they’ll fall into months after the flood.
This is a fear for Karla and Gary Adolphe. The couple sits in limbo, worried about making a wrong and costly decision about their home. Their house isn’t uninhabitable but they can’t make any progress until Alberta’s Disaster Recovery Program officials make a decision that will move the process forward.
“I can’t wait for the DRP, but at the same time I don’t want to disrespect the process that the DRP is in place for because it is valuable, but I just wish there was a clear line: a list of five things we need to do,” Karla said.
Three weeks prior to the flood, Karla and Gary — parents to three-year-old son Hudson and a baby due in October — took possession of their house in High River. They had a plan. They intended to live in their RV while they renovated their new home, a project they wanted to finish by the end of the summer. They had a budget and were progressing on schedule.
Gary had just completed the requirements to become a volunteer firefighter and on June 20, he went on a ride-along with the local department. That morning, when he heard the water was rising, he decided to help with sand bagging and anything else the fire department needed. He assumed, like everyone else, that this would be a typical June in town — the river would spill its banks into a few low-lying areas in the flood plain.
'I'm going to need help'
While Gary was out sandbagging on the southwest side of town, his friend Theo called for help moving some possessions out of his basement because his sewer was backing up. Because Gary was busy, Karla called up Caleb, another friend, to see if he could help instead. She offered to pick him up and take him to Theo’s house.
When she got to his house, the RCMP had just arrived. They had been knocking on doors, telling people to pack their bags and evacuate. Karla waited while he packed a bag and they headed downtown. No one was stressed at this point. Everything would be okay — they were just taking precautions.
Karla still didn’t worry when she had to drop off Caleb east of the railway tracks because downtown had already flooded. But she did decide to drive by her friend Paula Elliot’s home to see how things were at her house. Paula had been advised to pack up as well. On the same street, Karla saw the water raging and immediately turned back toward home.
She began to frantically text Gary, Caleb and Theo: “I need help, I’m going to need help.” She put Hudson in the RV and started to unplug everything. She thought if she could take the RV, they could live. They would be okay. Two ATCO employees were nearby and Karla asked them to help get the RV’s slide pushed back in.
The family, whose home had been gutted before the flood, didn’t have much in the house except for some tools, but they had just received a pallet of hardwood flooring that was sitting in the yard. She needed help to move it but none of her texts were going through.
Still struggling to get the slide pushed back in, one of the ATCO workers came into the trailer, grabbed Hudson and told Karla: “Run. Just run.” Karla looked out the window of the trailer at her backyard, which by then had become a swirling pool littered with the neighbour’s patio furniture and debris.
“It was like a tsunami,” Karla said. “The water went from nothing to knee-deep in five minutes.”
She grabbed her laptop, guitar and her dog, and ran to her truck. She got in the truck and drove to the fire department, where they found safety.
Insurance company closes claim
The RV Karla and Gary hoped to live in was destroyed. They’ve had to rent a condo in town and in September they began to pay their mortgage again after a two-month suspension.
Their house has been cleaned out and sanitized by an insurance company, but every time it rains, the basement takes in more water. With water sitting in the basement, the couple can’t install a furnace or a hot water tank. Prior to the flood, the basement did not leak, but the insurance company says the new water is not their responsibility and they have closed off the claim.
The DRP requires a letter from the insurance company to specify what was covered by insurance. Karla and Gary have provided the DRP with other required documentation, but they are still waiting for that letter. They have decided to go ahead and dig out around the outside walls of the basement to see if they can identify the structural issues. The house is older and the basement is cinder block, and they believe it may now be eroding.
The solution that makes the most sense is to raise the house off the foundation, backfill the property to raise the house higher off the street and then pour a new foundation. These extra steps were not factored into the original renovation budget and with no idea what the DRP is willing to compensate them for, the family can’t move forward.
“We are getting to that place now where life needs to move on,” Karla said.
“Gary is working 14 hours a day because there are so many construction jobs. We are having a baby. It is so much extra energy on top of trying to live, that it is just wearing us out.”