The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadian Forces personnel bring muscle and expertise to flood-ravaged High River

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HIGH RIVER, Alta. - Abandoned vehicles, smashed out windows and total devastation make this flood ravaged town closely resemble a war zone, right down to the soldiers and rumble of military vehicles on the streets.

The flood waters that overran the community south of Calgary on Thursday are receding but mainstreet is littered with several abandoned vehicles. There's a sour smell in the air, and the ground is covered with mud. A lazy boy rocking chair was sitting in the middle of one intersection.

The windows in a shop were smashed, perhaps from the force of the water, and the merchandise may have floated out the door. The Royal Bank across the street seemed undamaged.

Just how far the water has fallen is evident by the watermark on the wall at Pine Tree Place, which is home to a number of businesses. It appeared the water had dropped by close to two metres.

About 350 members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from Edmonton were assisting local RCMP in reaching homes that still have not been checked. Light Armoured Vehicles were driving through water clogged streets. Several Zodiacs were being used to reach the harder hit areas.

"We have a number of engineers with some boats, some diving capabilities but really it's a source of labour," said Lieut.-Col. Nick Grimshaw, the Commanding Officer, PPCLI 1st Battalion,.

"We're helping them get into areas that are inaccessible by normal means so we can use our assault boats to do that or our armoured vehicles to move through some of the tighter areas."

Getting to areas under water is dangerous said Col. Grimshaw.

"It's always dangerous working in a disaster area. A lot of the dangers are potentially working under the water whether they're sinkholes or powerlines. It is dangerous work but we have soldiers who are trained to use their equipment quite well."

A state of emergency was declared on Thursday in High River as rising floodwaters from the nearby Highwood River burst over the banks. In a matter of minutes, the rush of water turned much of the town into a raging river - forcing residents to jump from their cars or await rescue.

Thirteen-thousand residents were subjected to a mandatory evacuation.

A number of townspeople have refused to leave their homes. RCMP officers and soldiers have urged them to rethink their position when they go door-to-door but won't forcibly remove them unless there's an indication they are in danger.

"It's a case by case basis. We'll assess that at the time," said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marianne Ryan.

"If there are people we feel are at risk. We'll take the appropriate action."

High River is sealed off except for emergency personnel in an effort to protect property and reduce risks. Members of the media were taken into the downtown on Saturday for a look at the carnage.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford made a quick tour of the downtown. Pointing to the street behind her she said it saddens her to see what has happened.

"This is a street where people lived and people shopped and where people grew up for generations," said Redford.

"The world changed two days ago. It changed for families, it changed for businesses. It's very sad."

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