Edmonton

Two counties in northern Alberta bailing out after heavy rainfall forces states of emergency

Two northern Alberta counties have declared states of emergency after heavy weekend rains caused flooding, closed highways and forced some residents to evacuate.

'We're at the mercy of Mother Nature. Simple as that'

Road conditions in parts of Thorhild county are hazardous as a result of recent heavy rains. (Thorhild County/Facebook)

Two northern Alberta counties have declared states of emergency after heavy weekend rains caused flooding, closed highways and forced some residents to evacuate.

"We're at the mercy of Mother Nature. Simple as that,"  Thorhild County Reeve Kevin Grumetza told  CBC News on Monday morning.

Thorhild, about 110 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, declared its state of emergency on Monday morning, about 12 hours after a similar declaration was made by officials in Lac La Biche County.

About 70 residents were ordered to evacuate at about 9 p.m. Sunday when heavy rains threatened an area immediately west of the hamlet of Lac La Biche. The hamlet, home to about 2,300 people, is 215 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

A bridge that leads to the evacuated area is compromised and there is continued flooding but county officials can't say yet how much damage has been caused.

"We've shut down that road entirely, even to emergency traffic," Jihad Moghrabi, communications manager for Lac La Biche County told CBC News.

"We've had RCMP and peace officers patrolling it. So you know there is water that has entered that area. As to the extent of damage, I can't really speculate at this point."

According to Environment Canada, 58.1 millimetres of rain fell in Lac La Biche since Friday night.

The rain has subsided this morning and eased pressure on the sewer systems in the county. There were concerns about the system overloading, which could lead to basements flooding. 

"I'm not going to say that everything is entirely resolved at this point," said Moghrabi, "but things are definitely looking up, and with the drier conditions that we're expecting we think that we're going to be able to catch up and continue meeting demand."

Roads, provincial highways closed

Residents have been asked to limit all non-essential water use and, if possible, change the output sump pumps so they drain outside into the yard or street. 

Alberta Transportation has ordered all provincial highways in the county closed to non-essential traffic. The order affects Highways 36, 55, 663, 855, 858, 866, 867 and 881, all of which are already seeing water pooling on the road surfaces. 

The county is also assessing damage to local roads and plans to shift some of its focus to repairing them today. 

"I've never seen that much water," said Omer Moghrabi, mayor of Lac La Biche County.

The county is well-prepared, he added.

"We're kind of used to dealing with disasters. We helped out in Fort McMurray in both the flood and the fires and we always review our emergency management plan."

In Thorhild, localized flooding has led to the closure of several roads in the county due to overland flooding and bridges being washed out. 

Grumetza said the county is still recovering from damage from the spring run-off which caused overland flooding earlier this spring.

He said he believes damage caused by the heavy rains in the area is already in the millions of dollars.

"We've opened up some roads to help alleviate the backlog of water, and Mother Nature has done that on her own where she just opened up the roads herself. So that's the kind of situation we're in."

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