Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

An unhappy welcome home

Calgarians assess the damage as Medicine Hat braces for the same

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The Saddledome is surrounded by water on Sunday.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

The Saddledome is surrounded by water on Sunday.

Ryan Dunfield and Shanna McElrea were beyond discouraged Sunday when they returned to their new home on the Elbow River in Calgary to find their recently renovated basement a sodden mess.

The couple was among 65,000 Calgarians who were told they were being allowed to go back to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in dank debris and dirty water.

Dunfield and McElrea just moved to Calgary from Vancouver in May; the basement in their new home had been redone just six months ago.

Chest-high water that poured into their basement destroyed everything.

On Sunday, they were tearing off damp drywall and ripping up squishy carpet. Their mud-caked, water-logged couches sat on the curb.

"The majority of our living space is available," Dunfield said as friends helped clear out his home's lower level. "But the heart of a house is located in a basement. We'll have to get new boilers, furnace, hot-water tank. All the electrical is toast."

Trash bins already lined the streets in affected neighbourhoods and were beginning to fill with lamps, rugs, mattresses and filthy furniture.

On some front lawns, photos and paintings lay drying and curling in the sun.

Army personnel patrolled the streets. Neighbours commiserated.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave strict orders earlier in the day about what to watch for as residents re-entered their neighbourhoods, but he also redirected people's focus downstream. He said communities such as Medicine Hat were still bracing for the fury of flooding and his city would offer whatever assistance it could.

"We've turned a corner, but we are still in a state of emergency," he said. "Our hearts and thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues downstream."

Some Calgarians were returning to properties spared by flooding, but others were facing extensive repairs to homes and businesses. About 75,000 people had to leave at the height of the crisis as the Elbow and Bow rivers surged over their banks Thursday night.

Police said an elderly woman who didn't leave her home was found dead on Sunday. Duty Insp. Steve Ellefson said the woman was in a ground-floor apartment and wanted to stay behind because she had a cat.

Ellefson said the building was flooded, but that it wasn't known yet if her death was flood-related or was due to a medical condition.

Three other bodies have been recovered since Alberta floods began and a fourth person was still missing.

Nenshi spoke firmly at Sunday's news briefing about how people should go about checking their properties. He advised them to turn around if water were still evident on streets and sidewalks and said under no circumstances should they enter homes if water welled over entry ways or sloshed over electrical outlets.

He suggested homeowners use letter-sized sheets of paper taped to windows to communicate with utility workers: "Gas needed. Electricity needed. Water-pumping needed."

Nenshi said crews were working hard to restore services and he thanked Calgarians for heeding the call to conserve drinking water.

He had already warned recovery will be a matter of "weeks and months" and the damage costs will be "lots and lots."

While pockets of the city's core were drying out, some areas were still submerged. Most road surfaces were dry and crews could be seen in one neighbourhood just south of downtown sweeping up heaps of tangled branches, wood planks and other debris.

The Bow River was still pooling around the Calgary Zoo on St. George's Island, although all animals except two zebras remained. The striped beasts were moved Friday to a wildlife centre south of the city.

The mayor didn't anticipate anyone could return to work downtown until at least the middle of the week.

Public and separate schools were also to remain closed today. Provincial exams for Grade 12 students were waived.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2013 A6

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