High River residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki are blogging about their experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta.
They'll tell stories of the recovery through the eyes of people who live there.
I was recently asked if there are still stories to tell in High River. I responded with a resounding yes, and I know there will be stories to tell for years and years to come.
It is still sinking in for so many that June 20 was not only monumental and life-changing in High River, but one for the record books in Alberta, Canada and North America.
Since school started back I’ve heard stories from families and teachers about the evacuation and traumatic experiences that came after.
My friend Cathy King is the Grade 2 and 3 teacher at Spitzee Elementary School. She’s also teaching my daughter Grae this year.
Cathy and her husband Marty have a ﬁve-year-old son, Vance. Cathy is very loving, caring and creative. And loves being a teacher.
Not only does Cathy wear many hats on a day-to-day basis — wife/mother/teacher — but on June 20 and the days after she had concerns and worries on different levels.
Cathy said the morning started out normally — she dropped Vance off at his day home and went to school. She was working on science projects with her students when a teacher’s aide called to say there was ﬂooding at her house so she wouldn’t be in.
“Over the announcements we heard that we were to gather students with their backpacks and come to the gym as we were going to evacuate. Mr. Traber sounded very calm so I didn't feel worried and I knew that those in charge were doing what they needed to do,” she said.
“I didn't give it a second thought until my husband got in contact with me and said there was water in the downtown area and it was starting to rise.”
Once Cathy and the kids from Spitzee had moved over to Highwood High School, she started to worry about her son Vance. She contacted Cyndi Deans, who runs the day home, and heard that water was rising in that area too.
Marty tried to get their son but the bridge was covered with water and reception for phones was cutting in and out.
“The last text from Cyndi was that they were safe in her upper floor and that they were going to get in their canoe and go south to dryer homes,” she said.
“Then I lost contact with her. At this point I was visibly upset and the few students from my class that I still had, I asked another teacher to watch for a bit, as I knew the tears were coming. All it took was someone asking how Vance was and I burst into tears in the back of the library at Highwood,” said Cathy.
Cathy knew Cyndi was taking good care of Vance, but losing contact and knowing he was having to be taken in a canoe scared her. Little did she know that there were two men walking in the cold water with the canoe to keep Vance safe.
Later that night at around 8 p.m. Cathy and Marty got Vance off a helicopter in the parking lot of Sheppard Family Park.
“It was shocking to see the force of the water rushing through Sheppard Family Park and to see it so high in front of the recplex. Lots of emotions and worry as we waited for Vance. Finally we got him! Yay, I have never been so happy in my life,” said Cathy.
Cathy thought her biggest stress and panic was the day before — being evacuated and separated from her son.
But for Cathy and her family — and so many others on the other side of town who had never had to worry about ﬂooding before — their story was just beginning.
“That early morning was the first time I had really ever seen my husband worried. And I knew this was even more serious than we imagined, this was water coming over to the southeast where it never had before,” said Cathy.
Many of the King’s neighbours were still at home, so they thought they would have time. They were very wrong.
After grabbing what they could it was clear they had to leave immediately. They had no idea when they would be back. Over the next several weeks there were a lot of tears, but also gratitude to have such great people in their lives to lean on, Cathy said.
Thankful and looking forward
Cathy said she and her family are so thankful for Cyndi Deans at the day home and her daughter Devan for taking care of Vance when they couldn't get to them. And to the lady at the end of her street who took them all in and fed the kids. And to the two gentlemen — Darren Goldthorpe and Mr. Neesom — who walked in the cold water with the canoe to get Cyndi and the kids safely to dry ground. And to the helicopter companies who came in to help.
“When I think about all that they did to keep him safe, and everyone safe, I am amazed at all of their strength and selflessness. It was a very scary day and the actions of all of these people helped in keeping Vance safe and for that we are forever grateful,” said Cathy.
Cathy and Marty and Vance lost a lot. Even Cathy’s classroom materials were lost in the basement of Spitzee school, which was destroyed in the flood.
With generous donations from friends, family and even strangers, Vance got back some toys that he lost. Family friend Melanie Montford even surprised Vance with the complete train set taken by the flood. And Cathy received new resources for her classroom.
There will still be questions and concerns for a long time, and Vance still gets frightened when it rains too hard.
“Every little act of kindness helps us move forward and every chance we get we try to pay it forward to someone who needs a little boost. I believe High River will rebuild — it won't be the same but it will still be the place we call home,” Cathy said.