'It's part of who we are now': High River mayor reflects on 2013's devastating floods

Craig Snodgrass, mayor of High River, Alta., recalls the devastating 2013 floods in southern Alberta. He gave advice to the communities across Canada currently battling floods.
Houses are surrounded by flood water in High River, Alta. south of Calgary on June 23. High River was one of the hardest hit communities from the flood waters. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

May 8, 2017 

Craig Snodgrass, mayor of High River, Alta., gives advice to the eastern provinces as they suffer through major flooding. 9:05

As heavy rainfall and flooding continue to threaten regions across the country this week, Mayor Craig Snodgrass of High River, Alta., remembers what that "hell" was like.

It was nearly four years ago when he fled his home, escaping the floodwaters that would ravage his community and leave thousands displaced.

"Hearing the emotions [of those affected]… that's what really brings everything back," Snodgrass told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue during Sunday's show about the current flooding crisis. "Those emotions start to come out of people because… it's your home, possibly your lives being threatened."

The floods across southern Alberta in 2013 claimed five lives and created one of the most expensive disasters in Canadian history.

"Five, six, seven feet of water was flowing at a high rate of speed all through town, destroying everything in its path… Within six hours, I had 12 feet of water in my basement," Snodgrass said.

High River was one of the worst hit communities, with over 80 per cent of its homes affected.

Mayor Craig Snodgrass got emotional during the flood anniversary ceremony in High River. "Let the world know we're not done and we're not going anywhere," he told the gathered crowd triumphantly. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)
"Every single basement had to be gutted, tore out, left alone for months to be rebuilt. The streets were packed with garbage...That's where [these communities currently battling the floods] are headed."

Snodgrass says that once these communities begin to recover and rebuild, it is important to stay calm and assess the situation slowly, adding that it will be a slow process regardless.

"You have to try your best to calm down. You have to try your best to slow down because when I look back at how we rebuilt, most of us went too fast. You just go as hard as you can to get back some sense of normalcy, [but] if you go as hard and as fast as you can, you will make mistakes," he said.

"I've been there, it's extremely hard to do, but the number one thing I would do is just take a breath for a bit and slow down."

Despite the devastation, Snodgrass argues that it is because of the 2013 floods that High River is now well-prepared for a similar event.

"It's hell and it's going to be hell for a while, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

A resident is comforted by rescuers as she clutches her dog after being retrieved from the floodwaters in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013, after the Highwood River overflowed its banks. (Jordan Verlage/Canadian Press)
"Looking back and [comparing our level of protection then with] where we're at now, we are the most well-protected community in Canada from flood risk. There is no doubt. That flood secured the future of this town and High River is better for it, but you got to go through hell to get there."
While the community has now returned to normalcy, for some residents of High River, a certain kind of "hell" continues. Snodgrass says following their experiences on the ground during the flooding, many residents continue to struggle with PTSD.

"I'm one of them," he said.

High River is equipped with social support systems, Snodgrass says, but it is a struggle to continue to receive funding for these services.

"The psychological effects of going through a disaster of this scale doesn't go away just because the water is gone... Everyone needs to recognize that it takes years to get over this stuff," he said.

"It's part of who we are now."

With files from Ieva Lucs.


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