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Albertans mark 1 year anniversary of costliest flood in Canadian history

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HIGH RIVER, Alta. - Deanna Green dealt with conflicting emotions as she stood in the bright sunshine one year after the Highwood River burst its banks and changed her hometown of High River forever.

"It's kind of bittersweet," she said Friday. "We're celebrating and trying to look forward, but it's still tough. We have quite a ways to move forward yet."

Green was one of more than 1,000 people who turned out to mark the anniversary of what's believed to be the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history — the flooding that hit southern Alberta in June 2013.

A year later, the barbershop Green runs downtown remains dark. She has had to relocate to a temporary business park.

"My business is being rebuilt. We lost our home and I grew up here. It's hard to watch our town go through this, but it's nice to see everybody come out and be happy," she said with a smile. "It's so nice the sun is shining."

Ralph Keith, who has lived in High River for 35 years, said the town needs to look toward the future.

"High River's a special place. It has special people. We want to rebuild this town to how it was and make it even better," he said. "This is our town."

High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass paid tribute to emergency workers and other communities that helped his town during the flood. He asked for a moment of silence to honour four people who drowned and a fifth who was killed in an ATV accident while helping a neighbour sandbag.

He told reporters it was an emotional day.

"There's been a lot go on in this town and the emotions come from just watching the people of this community step together and it's been absolutely unbelievable," he said. "If you're not emotional, I don't think you're paying attention."

Ceremonies were held in a number of the 30 different communities hit by the flood.

In Calgary, where tens of thousands had to flee their homes for higher ground, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said his strongest memory is of everyone pulling together.

"Sometimes people say to me how can we celebrate such a bad thing?" he told the public gathered at the municipal building. "What we're celebrating is those hands. We're celebrating who we are. We're celebrating what we do. We're celebrating the resiliency of our community."

Nenshi's face was everywhere in his city at the height of the flood. He worked for 43 straight hours without sleep: tweeting, imploring, directing, assisting, cheering on and cheering up his citizens who saw homes ruined and possessions literally float away.

He said he still remembers a sign he saw outside one home after the flood.

"And that message is the one thing that I will never, ever forget about 2013. The message was we lost some stuff; we gained a community."

He unveiled a plaque and a pair of bronzed rubber boots that will sit in the municipal building's atrium as a permanent reminder of what the city faced.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, appeared by video in Calgary.

"Laureen and I will always remember the summer of 2013," Harper said. "Not because of the height of the floodwaters, but because of the strength of the people here and the generosity of all Canadians."

There were flashbacks in southern Alberta this week as heavy rain pounded areas south of Calgary and rivers swelled again.

About 500 homes were flooded — some of the same ones that were hit in 2013.

Green said the threat brought everything back.

"The stress level here is really high," she said.

But the High River mayor said it will get better over time.

"It is still raw today," Snodgrass told the crowd. "But in the years to come we will no longer fear June, but will put up our feet and enjoy it."

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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