'Catastrophic' overland flooding shuts down southern Alberta highway, threatens Taber homes

The M.D. of Taber, Alta., is under an emergency alert due to overland flooding.

Municipal District of Taber under emergency alert

Dozens of roads and highways were flooded throughout the M.D. of Taber, Alta., on Saturday. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

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The Municipal District of Taber, Alta., is under an emergency alert due to overland flooding.

More than 250 sections of roads have been closed around the area, including Highway 36 from Taber to Vauxhall. RCMP said there was no anticipated time for the highway to reopen.

Traffic was initially diverted to Highway 864, but at approximately 10 p.m. that highway was closed at Township Road 102 due to flooding and concerns about drivers navigating the steep drop-offs on either side of the road in the dark.

Highways 864 and 36 were closed on Saturday due to flooding in the M.D. of Taber in southern Alberta. Highways 521 and 526 were also flooded or washed out. Over 250 partial road closures were in effect. (Alberta Transportation)

The emergency alert was issued at approximately 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, due to localized flooding on roads.

"What we are experiencing right now is best described as catastrophic," said Derrick Krizsan, the municipal administrator for the M.D. of Taber.

"We have within our municipal boundaries at this time no area untouched by snow melt."

Heavy snowfall followed by warm weather has caused flooding near Taber, Alta. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Krizsan said dozens of properties in the M.D. were flooding or at risk of flooding. Two families were forced to evacuate from their homes as of Saturday evening.

Others are on washed out roads, Krizsan said, and have chosen to shelter in place.

The municipality only expects the situation to worsen over the next 24 to 48 hours.

No mandatory evacuation order is in place, but residents are being notified that they can voluntarily evacuate their homes and head to an evacuation centre set up at a local hotel.

Drivers were warned that high water flows may have made some roads impassable.

Krizsan said crews were working on flood mitigation Saturday and were monitoring the status of culverts and drainage channels. Fire department volunteers were out assisting with road barricades, he said.

Power poles and roofs of outbuildings are seen above the floodwaters in southern Alberta on Saturday. (Supplied)

Flooding was observed in Grassy Lake, Vauxhall, Enchant and Hays, according to the district's website.

Krizsan said the situation could be economically disastrous for the region — which is one of the province's agricultural centres — as usually by April 15 crops would be in the ground.

David Bekkering was working into the evening on Saturday to try and pump water off his property. He said the water began to flood the property on Friday.

"The water has just kind of come around my acreage ... I've never seen this before."

Overland flooding has blocked the Highway 36 between Vauxhall and Taber. (Alberta RCMP)

Bekkering wasn't too worried about his property, but he was concerned about neighbours in the area.

"There's other people that have it far worse than I do," he said.

Nicole Ringer lives in the M.D. of Taber, just south of the town itself.

She drove to town Saturday afternoon to pick up an item at the store. On her way into town, the water was creeping up over the edges of the road. On her way back, she couldn't get through — the road had flooded.

Rural homes are being threatened by encroaching floodwaters in the M.D. of Taber. (Supplied)

"The road near me, Highway 513 was closed. Pretty much every range road and township road was closed."

She's not sure if she'll be able to get to work on Monday — the road was washed out.

Ringer wasn't worried about her own property, but said she was heartbroken to see posts on Facebook of others in the area desperately searching for sandbags to protect their homes, or their parent's homes from the floodwaters. 

"It is scary. I'm very lucky that my house is situated where it is," she said. 

The Town of Taber was under a state of emergency for days in March, after heavy snowfall combined with warm weather saw floodwaters encroaching on the water treatment facility.

"We have experienced since Oct. 2 a very unseasonable Alberta winter. High snowfalls, a few Chinooks and certainly we knew some time ago we were in for an interesting spring ... but this is unprecedented," Krizsan said. 

He said this emergency alert was different because of the scope of the flooding, which has been occurring throughout the municipality.

David Bekkering was working on Saturday to pump floodwater off his property. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

"We have water moving overland at locations and at rates that really no one alive has witnessed before," he said. 

Temperatures in the region were expected to fluctuate between –4 C and 14 C, with a possibility of freezing rain on Monday. 

Krizsan said the district is asking property owners to be patient and not pump more water off their properties than is necessary to protect their homes and businesses, as the irrigation infrastructure is at capacity.

The M.D. of Taber is under emergency alert due to overland flooding. (Supplied)

"The irrigation districts have been extremely accommodating, but what is occurring right now is threatening to overwhelm their infrastructure as well," he said.

A full list of road closures and updates on the emergency situation are available on the district's website, and @511Alberta is is tweeting out updates on highway conditions.


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.

With files from Anis Heydari