Return to High River homes still too risky, officials say

Officials don't know how long it will be before frustrated High River residents will be able to return to their homes in the flooded southern Alberta town.

More rural areas approved for return on Tuesday night

Officials say it is still too dangerous for High River evacuees to return home. 2:52

Officials don't know how long it will be before frustrated High River residents will be able to return to their homes in the flooded southern Alberta town.

The Municipal District of Foothills on Tuesday evening said that residents from several rural areas are being allowed to return home. The areas include farms and properties on the outskirts of Okotoks and High River to the south of Calgary, and rural properties west of Calgary.

About 13,000 residents have been out of their homes in High River since Thursday when a state of emergency was declared and a mandatory evacuation order issued as rising floodwaters burst the banks of the nearby Highwood River.

RCMP and military search teams recently completed a door-to-door hunt of homes and buildings, finding about 300 people who ignored evacuation orders. Eight people needed to be rescued because of health issues or lack of supplies.

"This was extraordinarily dangerous work," said Insp. Garrett Woolsey on Tuesday. "I can't tell you about the conditions, how devastating it is in the community right now, and in some sections they are only getting worse because there is standing water in many, many places."

RCMP divers will assist with underwater searches of homes too deeply flooded to thoroughly check for victims or survivors. Some buildings are too unsafe to enter.

Cleanup continues

Town officials, contractors, the military and emergency workers are working to pump water out of neighbourhoods, clear roads and get utilities and sewage running.

Some homes have been severely damaged, said fire operations spokesman Brian Cornforth.

"My heart goes out to those people. I know you want to see your house. I know you want to get back into your community," he said. "That's first and foremost on everybody's minds. We are working extremely hard to get this community back up an running."

Mayor Emile Blokland said services to those remaining in their homes will be cut off. Residents can't get back in to retrieve items and need to keep away from the town to allow crews to work, he said.

"When it's safe, we will let people in as quickly as possible in an organized manner," he said. "We have all kinds of equipment running around the town, clearing our roads and streets, working on our operations every day. We can't have more people in the community. It's as simple as that."

When asked if the town could be saved, Blokland said he is confident it will be. "We will rebuild High River if necessary, where necessary, when necessary."

Evacuees frustrated

Tensions are running high among evacuees who are questioning why they can't get back into the town, when there are some people who remain in the community.

A 24-year-old man armed with a knife tried to breach the security perimeter Sunday night, saying he wanted to check on his dog.

Resident Darren Deveau , who is waiting in the nearby town of Nanton, said Tuesday that officials are not providing enough information for evacuees.

"We've talked to people that have been in contact with people working in High River, so we know more what's going on through them. It's just ridiculous."

He said people are getting critical information from the internet or news reports because nothing official has been posted on how people can access help.

"It's hell, pure hell," said a tearful  Erin Deveau. "We left with nothing. We have nothing. We have nobody out here. Our family is in Nova Scotia. Where do you start?"

Denise St. Denis, who has been out of her home since Thursday, said she should be allowed to go back at least for a change of clothes so she can get to work in Calgary.

"If we have pieces of identification, let us go in our home and pick up the things that we need. Let us open the windows if the sun is out — less things that we'll lose," said St. Denis.

Rob Tippel owns a pizza restaurant in High River.

"It's complete carnage right now."

Tippel said that it's tough to deal with damage to both a home and a business, but he and his wife have no intention of leaving the community to start over somewhere else.

Tippel praised the emergency personnel at work in High River, but was critical of residents who have refused to leave.

"They can't do anything because they're still dealing with all of these stubborn people that won't leave, and they don't comprehend what they're doing to everybody else."

Three people have died as a result of the flooding in High River.