Disaster relief kicks in for 2016 Grande Prairie flood victims

People struggling to bounce back from a 2016 flood in Grande Prairie can apply for funding from the province this week.

Province approves $4.8-million disaster relief fund for Grande Prairie homes and businesses

Ellyn Otterson describes the storm which flooded her home in 2016. She estimates repairing her basement's foundation and replacing the furnace and water heater cost almost $15,000. 0:48

Millions in disaster relief funding will become available this week for people hit by severe flooding in Grande Prairie a year and a half ago.

​A summer storm drowned parts of the city with rain on Aug. 2, 2016. 

As water crept up the sides of buildings and mired cars in the street, the city issued an emergency alert and urged people to stay away from flooded areas.

Emergency crews fielded dozens of calls for help.

'Awful as can be'

Ellyn Otterson, 77, remembers the storm brewing over her home.

"I saw this huge black cloud coming and then it just seemed to stop overhead and I thought, 'I'm in for it,' " Otterson said. "It was just scary and black and awful as can be.

​"The wind was howling and the rain was being blown sideways."

A storm caused severe flooding in parts of Grande Prairie in August 2016. (Facebook/Nicole Pollard)

Water began to rush into her basement crawl space, rising within centimetres of the kitchen floor. 

Otterson, a part-time music teacher, posted a plea for help to Facebook. One of her students' parents rushed to pump water from under the house.

The flood destroyed Otterson's foundation, furnace and water heater.

"The toll it took on me emotionally — I really nearly checked out," she said. "I remember thinking, 'How much longer is this going to go on? I can't take it anymore.' 

"I was just sick over what I was going to have to spend."

Repairing her basement's foundation and replacing the furnace and water heater cost almost $15,000, Otterson said.

$4.8-million disaster relief fund

Alberta's government approved $4.8 million in disaster relief funding for Grande Prairie, to help those struggling to bounce back.

Otterson said she plans to apply this weekend so she can repay friends and relatives who chipped in for repairs.

"It would be nice to pay some of that back because you shouldn't have to rely on people to help," she said. "But there was nothing else to do."

Friends helped Ellyn Otterson pump water from her basement, after it flooded during a summer storm in 2016. (Zoe Todd/CBC)
A 2016 summer storm in Grande Prairie flooded Ellyn Otterson's basement. (Supplied/Rory Mells)

The flood damaged approximately 400 homes and 200 small businesses in Grande Prairie, according to Leanne Stroh, a spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs.

The ministry works with municipalities to manage emergencies including wildfires and flooding.

"The provincial Disaster Recovery Program provides financial assistance for municipalities and their citizens who incur uninsurable loss and damage as a result of an extraordinary disaster event," Stroh wrote in an email to CBC News on Monday.

"Eligibility is limited to costs where insurance was not readily or reasonably available at the time of the event."

Aging infrastructure

A city can apply for flood funding if rainfall causes widespread damage and is considered a one-in-25 year event.

"We're really thankful to the province for recognizing the hardships some of our business owners and home owners have had," said Coun. Dylan Bressey, one of eight councillors in the city.

The flood hit Grande Prairie at a vulnerable time, Bressey said.

"No news to anyone, we've had challenging economic times over the last few years," he said. "To have this flood hit at the same time really created challenges for some residents [and] for a lot of businesses."

The city has since launched a downtown rehabilitation project to replace water and sewage systems under its streets, including narrow clay drainage pipes installed in the 1930s.

"Part of the problem was the aging infrastructure under the roads just wasn't up to getting rid of the rainwater," Bressey said. "That's actually the motivation behind our downtown rehabilitation."

People living in Grande Prairie can apply for funding in-person on Jan. 11, 12 and 13 at the Grande Prairie municipal offices.

@ZoeHTodd

About the Author

Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.