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Saddledome's nerve centre 'a total loss' to floods, says Flames president

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The inside of the Calgary Saddledome is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the NHL's Calgary Flames hockey club. The Calgary Flames say everything below the eighth row in the Saddledome is ruined by flooding. Team president Ken King says it's a total loss - dressing rooms, players' equipment, seats, boards and scoreboard electronics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Flames

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The inside of the Calgary Saddledome is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the NHL's Calgary Flames hockey club. The Calgary Flames say everything below the eighth row in the Saddledome is ruined by flooding. Team president Ken King says it's a total loss - dressing rooms, players' equipment, seats, boards and scoreboard electronics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Flames

CALGARY - A Calgary Flame stepping from the tunnel onto the Saddledome ice Saturday would have required scuba gear.

The Scotiabank Saddledome has been hit hard by the floods that ravaged parts of Southern Alberta.

The floodwaters reached the eighth row of seats in the lower bowl and submerged the Flames dressing room, team president Ken King said Saturday.

"That means if you were a hockey player walking from the tunnel onto the ice, you would be underwater yourself," he said. "It's very difficult to describe millions of gallons of water, sitting in that building."

A contract signed by former Flames captain Jim Peplinski was among some portable memorabilia saved.

But everything else on the Saddledome event level — the nerve centre for games and concerts — was "a total loss," King told reporters at a McMahon Stadium news conference.

The event level is the lowest floor in the building. The ice plant, ice resurfacing machines, kitchens and Saddledome staff uniforms are examples of what was under water Saturday.

"Everything that happens on the event level is drowned. Everything," King stated.

He stressed that the Saddledome was "real estate, a building" and the loss of life and homes Southern Albertans have suffered is more important.

But the Saddledome has been a part of the lifeblood of the city since it was built in 1983 for the arrival of the NHL's Flames and the 1988 Winter Olympics.

In addition to serving as the home arena of the Flames, Western Hockey Leagues' Hitmen, and National Lacrosse League's Roughnecks, it is a concert venue as well as exhibition space for the Calgary Stampede, which opens July 5.

City officials have not cancelled this year's Stampede.

"That's a move-in that's nine days from now," King said. "That may seem ludicrously ambitious, but this is Calgary."

King dispelled the rumour that the Jumbotron was on the arena floor when the Elbow River gushed into the building early Friday morning.

He confirmed, however, the electronics that operate the massive scoreboard were under about four metres of water "and not salvageable."

He couldn't begin to put a dollar figure on the loss.

"We believe our insurance is full and intact and will cover us for this eventuality," King said.

Next season's WHL and NHL schedules have yet to be released, but the WHL season starts the third week of September and the NHL's the first week of October.

"We're going to be ready for the opening of the season," King vowed. "That's our goal and our objective.

"If something between us and that that we're unaware of . . . and appreciate we don't know what's under there at this point. The quicker we can get in there and start pumping water, the quicker we're going to be able to answer that question with certainty."

But the floodwaters must recede before the restoration of the Saddledome can begin.

"We have equipment, the biggest water pumps in North America on standby for us and many of them," King said.

"We have people on standby to go to work, but they can only go to work and the equipment can only be put in place once we see the river subside and obviously the flood damage subside from our building."

The Flames vice-president of building operations said the water line was starting to drop in the arena, but urged people to stay clear of the Saddledome because it was not safe there.

"There's a lot of heavy equipment moving around," Libby Raines said.

Once the water is out, the Saddledome will be inspected, she added.

"We'll get our consultants in and make sure we get a thorough look at the building," she explained. "At this point, we're fairly confident that we should be structurally intact, but, again, we'll have that all looked at."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon have called to offer assistance, King said.

The Flames also own the CFL's Calgary Stampeders and some hockey staff will work out of offices at McMahon Stadium starting Monday.

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