Published June 22, 2013
CALGARY, Alberta – The two rivers that converge on the western Canadian city of Calgary are starting to recede after floods devastated much of southern Alberta province, causing at least three deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate.
The flooding forced authorities to evacuate Calgary's entire downtown and hit some of the city's iconic structures hard. The Saddledome, home to the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames, was flooded up to the 10th row, leaving the dressing rooms submerged.
Bruce Burrell, director of the city's emergency management agency, said Saturday they are seeing improvements in the rivers. Dan Limacher, director of water services for the city, said the Elbow river is expected to recede by about 60 percent over the next two days, while the larger Bow river will recede by about 25 percent.
The improving conditions Saturday morning prompted Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to tweet: "It's morning in Calgary! Sunny, water levels are down, and our spirit remains strong. We're not out of this, but maybe have turned corner."
Overflowing rivers on Thursday and Friday washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta. Police have said two bodies have been recovered and third was in an area that made it too dangerous to recover.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford has warned that communities downstream of Calgary had not yet felt the full force of the floodwaters. Medicine Hat, downstream from Calgary, was under a mandatory evacuation order affecting 10,000 residents.
As the sun rose in Calgary on Saturday morning it wasn't raining. Burrell said some of the 75,000 flood evacuees from more than 24 neighborhoods will be allowed back into their homes. He said the goal is to allow people from portions of six communities back into their homes on Saturday. Residents in a portion of one of those neighborhoods — the high ground portion of Discovery Ridge — have already been allowed back.
Calgary's mayor said late Friday the downtown area was still without power and remained off limits.
"It is extremely unlikely that people will be able to return to those buildings before the middle of next week," Nenshi said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Calgary resident, said he never imagined there would be a flood of this magnitude in this part of Canada.
"This is incredible. I've seen a little bit of flooding in Calgary before. I don't think any of us have seen anything like this before. The magnitude is just extraordinary," he said.
"We're all very concerned that if gets much more than this it could have real impact on infrastructure and other services longer term, so we're hoping things will subside a bit."
Twenty-five neighborhoods in the city, with an estimated 75,000 residents, were evacuated due to floodwaters in Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics and is the center of Canada's oil industry. About 1,500 people have gone to emergency shelters while the rest have found shelter with family or friends, Nenshi said.
About 350,000 people work in downtown Calgary on a typical day. However, officials said very few people had to be moved out, since many heeded warnings and did not go to work Friday.
A spokesman for Canada's defense minister said 1,300 soldiers from a base in Edmonton were being deployed to the flood zone.
Police were asking residents who were forced to leave the nearby High River area to register at an evacuation shelter. The Town of High River remained under a mandatory evacuation order.
Schools and court trials were canceled. Transit service in the city's core was shut down.
Residents were left to wander and wade through streets waist-deep in water.
Newlyweds Scott and Marilyn Crowson were ordered out of their central Calgary condominium late Friday as rising waters filled their parking garage and ruptured a nearby gas line. "That's just one building but every building is like this," he said. "For the most part, people are taking it in stride."
Scott Crowson, a kayaker, estimated the Bow River, usually about four feet (1.2 meters) deep, is running at a depth of 15 feet (4.5 meters).
"It's moving very, very fast," he said of the normally placid stream spanned by now-closed bridges. "I've never seen it so big and so high."
It had been a rainy week throughout much of Alberta, but on Thursday the Bow River Basin was battered with up to four inches (10 centimeters) of rain. Environment Canada's forecast called for more rain in the area, but in much smaller amounts.
Calgary was not alone in its weather-related woes. Flashpoints of chaos spread from towns in the Rockies south to Lethbridge.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies and Charmaine Noronha contributed from Toronto. AP writer Jeremy Hainsworth contributed from Vancouver, British Columbia.