Flood threats in Alberta spread to new parts of the province as water levels began to subside in Calgary and other southern Alberta cities first hit this weekend by rain-swollen rivers flowing east from the Rocky Mountains.
Evacuation orders were issued to towns north and east of Calgary, with the flood-warning zone stretching some 250 miles (402 kilometers) north from the Montana border. About 10,000 people evacuated Medicine Hat as Canadian military forces sandbagged the city in preparation for the arrival of the surging river waters that inundated cities to the west.
Twenty-seven Alberta communities remained under states of emergency this morning, Doug Griffiths, the province’s municipal affairs minister, said in Calgary. The town of High River, about 30 miles south of Calgary, suffered the worst damage, as about a foot of rain fell in two days in a river basin west of the city before emptying into the Highwood River that flows through town. Three people died there during the flooding, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.
“There is no spot where the situation is worse than in High River,” Griffiths said. “There’s not a single home in High River that will not have to be inspected, that has not been touched.”
Several Calgary neighborhoods had evacuation orders in place since June 20 lifted, and some of the 75,000 people evacuated from the city will be able to return home this afternoon. The Rocky Mountain resort towns west of Calgary -- Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis -- are working on re-entry plans for residents, Griffiths said.
The re-opening schedule for downtown Calgary, location of the headquarters of Canada’s largest energy companies such as Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Imperial Oil Ltd., is still uncertain, officials said.
“A big chunk of the downtown core is still without power,” Bruce Burrell, director of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, told reporters today. “We don’t know -- they may be without power for days, they may be without power for weeks.”
Power is gradually being restored as water levels fall, according to Enmax, the municipally-owned utility. About 24,000 customers were without power as of noon local time today, Enmax Chief Executive Gianna Manes said.
Water levels in the Bow and Elbow rivers, which run through Calgary, have fallen since yesterday though flow rates still remain high, Burrell said. They’re more than three times faster than during a 2005 flood that was the worst in about a century, damaging 40,000 homes and evacuating 1,500 people.
Six to eight inches (150 to 200 millimeters) of rain fell into the river basins near Calgary beginning June 19, and more than 12 inches fell in the Sheep River basin southwest of the city.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada announced yesterday that it will postpone its national convention in Calgary, originally scheduled for this week.
“I never imagined you could have a flood of this magnitude in this part of the country,” Harper said in a June 21 press conference after touring flood-damaged parts of the province with Premier Alison Redford. Harper is a Member of Parliament for Calgary’s Southwest district.