CALGARY, Alberta – As water levels dropped in the western Canadian city of Calgary, residents returned to muddy, waterlogged homes on Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has devastated much of Alberta, causing at least three deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate. People in the eastern part of the province headed for higher ground as the flood threat remained.
In Medicine Hat, Alberta, thousands of people have left their homes as water levels rose on the South Saskatchewan River. The river isn't expected to peak until Monday morning.
To the west, in Calgary, vacated neighborhoods along the swollen Bow and Elbow Rivers were showing signs of life again as displaced residents started to trickle home. Some of the 75,000 flood evacuees from more than 24 neighborhoods were returning to properties spared by the flooding, but many are facing extensive repairs to homes and businesses.
Nathan MacBey and his wife found muddy water had risen to about kitchen counter level in their Calgary home at the peak of the flooding. His basement is still swamped and the main floor of the home is covered in wet mud.
"This is unprecedented," said the father of two, his voice cracking with emotion. "Not being able to give our kids a home, that's tough. ... We can survive, it's just the instability for the kids."
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 8th row of the lower bowl.
Flames' president and CEO Ken King said the Saddledome is a "real mess." He said the flooding had caused a total loss on the event level with all mechanical equipment submerged under 15 feet (4.5 meters) of water.
"If you were a hockey player walking out of the tunnel to the ice, you'd be underwater yourself," he said during a news conference on Saturday.
Water lapped at the roof of the chuckwagon barns at the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to start in two weeks. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the city will do everything it can to make sure that the world-renowned party goes ahead.
Nenshi warned that recovery will be a matter of "weeks and months," with the damage price tag "lots and lots." Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, is the center of Canada's oil industry.
Overflowing rivers on Thursday and Friday washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta. The mountain town of Canmore, Alberta, was one of the first communities hit when the flooding began.
Residents have been allowed to return to 260 evacuated homes in Canmore, but police said 40 more are too damaged to allow people back.
John Marriott lost his backyard when a raging river roared right up to the foundation of his house.
"It's still a lot better than watching it flow away in the creek, which I thought it was going to be," said the wildlife photographer on Saturday afternoon. "I don't want to relocate but I guess you do what you have to do. It's just a house."
The town of High River is slowly draining, but large areas remain under water. It is currently locked down and it will be days before residents can return. Police recovered three bodies in High River.
About 350 members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from Edmonton were assisting local Royal Canadian Mounted Police in reaching homes that still haven't been checked. Light Armored Vehicles churned through submerged streets and Zodiac watercraft were being used to reach the hardest hit areas.