The provincial government is hoping hundreds of volunteers will take advantage of a new shuttle service to High River starting Thursday to help with the massive cleanup of flooded homes and businesses in the southern Alberta town.
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Shuttles will depart Mount Royal University and Bishop O’Byrne High School in Calgary to the High River Agricultural Society Rodeo Grounds every two hours starting at 9 a.m. MT.
There will be water and snacks provided on the shuttles, but volunteers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The last shuttle from Calgary to High River leaves at 4 p.m. and the last shuttle from High River to Calgary leaves at 9 p.m.
The province is asking volunteers to bring equipment such as boots, masks, gloves, buckets, shovels and garbage bags. Other volunteers not coming on the shuttles have been asked to report to the staging area at the rodeo grounds as well.
In contrast to Calgary, where volunteers descended on affected areas days after the flood damage, High River residents largely had to rely on themselves because so few people have been allowed into the town.
Roughly three-quarters of the town's residents are now able to return after the province lifted entry restrictions into High River, but parts of the community are still under water.
Rick Fraser, associate minister of regional recovery and reconstruction, plans to outline the initial re-entry plan for the east area of High River — one of the hardest hit areas of the flood — on Thursday.
Plea for help
Homeowner Eric Scott said help is badly needed. He is clearing out his muddy basement with the help of family and friends, but he could use some extra hands.
Albertans affected by flooding can call the government of Alberta Call Centre at 403-310-4455 to ask questions from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. Volunteer agents will forward calls to the appropriate program area and provide information.
"There's what, 5,000 [to] 6,000 homes in High River. Each of these houses needs a team of 10. That's the scope of what we're dealing with," he said. "Every pair of arms that we can get needs to be down here — please."
Barbara Mansbridge has cardboard signs in her front yard that read "Volunteers Needed." She's trying to haul her things out of her home quickly.
"We're worried that the house is going to cave in — the floor is buckling," she said.
On the outskirts of town, piles of supplies are unloaded in a staging area: shovels, mops, coveralls, garbage bags and underwear.
'Homes are devastated'
"I mean there's so many people here, you can see them all around collecting stuff, that need help, and obviously their homes are devastated," said volunteer Gloria Pennycook, who came from Calgary.
Brittany Huntington’s basement has mould on the walls, mounds of mud layering the floor, piles of soggy furniture and the stench of sewage.
"Everything's ruined. It looks like they resurrected the Titanic."
But she has barely started cleaning up because she’s been busy helping her next-door neighbour.
"Everyone's like, 'Come help, come help'. And everyone's like, 'We're in the same position,'" she said.
Any help appreciated
Huntington said any help, big or small, would be welcome.
As Kerri Kaybeary sifted through the remains of her downtown gift store, where the walls were knocked down and her inventory carried off by the water, she said it might be too late for help.
"At this point I don't know. There's not really anything here to save," she said.
Archie Benekos, who owns a business in downtown High River, said his town needs a helping hand.
"Whoever can, come out here and help. Help the local people to clean up and get High River going again. All the local people are down on their luck," he said.
A camp is being built for displaced High River residents inside Calgary's city limits in a southeast industrial park. Final details are still being worked out, but provincial officials hope it will be up and running soon.