Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alberta tables first $1B in flood-recovery cash

Stampede will go on: president

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Cleanup crews hard at work getting the Calgary Stampede grounds ready Monday.

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Cleanup crews hard at work getting the Calgary Stampede grounds ready Monday.

The Alberta government made the first billion-dollar ante Monday in a flood-recovery effort that by all accounts will carry a staggering final tab.

As thousands heaved soggy furniture, muddy carpets and mushy drywall into Dumpsters and thousands more waited in shelters for the all-clear to return home, the province approved an initial $1 billion to kick-start flood recovery.

"We are going to do -- please listen to my words -- whatever it takes to get everyone back to a place where they can continue to live their lives," Premier Alison Redford said.

The money will be used to support people who have been forced from their homes, as well as to run relief centres and to start rebuilding infrastructure.

The government will provide pre-loaded debit cards to displaced residents to help with their immediate housing needs and day-to-day purchases. Those who qualify will receive $1,250 per adult and $500 per child.

Redford beat back fiscal critics before they had a chance to strike, saying the provincial budget will not be balanced next year as planned.

"It is going to affect the budget and I will say right now, because someone is going to ask the question, 'Are we sticking to the plan to balance the budget?' No, we're not," she said.

"The world changed (last) Thursday morning and I think as a Treasury Board we've come to terms with that. We think Albertans have come to terms with that."

Torrential rain last week filled up creeks and rivers that were unable to contain so much water in such a short time and surged over their banks to inundate communities throughout much of southern Alberta.

Redford said the rebuilding could take 10 years.

"I don't want to scare people. But when we talk about what's going to happen, we're talking about a 10-year plan. And we're committed to make sure we're going to take the time to do that right," she said.

Redford's announcement came at the same time Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said almost all of the 75,000 city citizens who had to flee high water from the Bow and Elbow rivers last week could go back.

The hum of gas-powered pumps filled the streets as homeowners removed water from basements filled to the floor joists. Giant garbage bins placed in neighbourhoods quickly filled up. The city waived fees to enter the landfill.

Damage estimates so far have only been speculative.

A preliminary report from BMO analyst Tom MacKinnon said it could be in the realm of $3 billion to $5 billion.

MacKinnon said he arrived at that figure by multiplying $500 million by 10, after reading ATB Financial economist Todd Hirsch's comments the price tag could be 10 times higher than that of the flood in the area in 2005.

Hirsch cautioned his estimate was not a scientific one and was based solely on how much larger this flood was.

Nenshi wasn't guessing.

"My best estimate on the total damage hasn't changed," said Nenshi. "It's lots and lots and lots."

Meanwhile, the president of the Calgary Stampede said the world-famous event will go ahead next week "come hell or high water."

Bob Thompson said crews have been pumping millions of litres of water from the rodeo grounds, which were swamped last week by extensive flooding that hit much of southern Alberta.

"Throughout our entire history, we have never cancelled a show, despite two wars and a Great Depression -- 2013 will be no exception," he said at a news conference Monday.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 A11

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