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Penguins first to go public when flood-damaged Calgary Zoo reopens July 31

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CALGARY - The Calgary Zoo says it will take five months before it can fully reopen its doors after severe flooding that caused an estimated loss of $60 million.

CEO Cl�ment Lanthier says the north part of the zoo will open first on July 31. That section includes the Penguin Plunge, Prehistoric Park and Canadian Wilds.

The zoo is located on St. George's Island east of downtown and was swamped by floodwaters from the swollen Bow and Elbow rivers last month. Lanthier said 40 buildings, including the African Savannah exhibit, were severely damaged.

During the height of the flooding, the zebras were moved to the zoo's wildlife conservation centre outside the city and about 160 animals had to be moved to higher ground. Two hippos almost escaped when high water levels lifted them close to the top of their enclosure.

Giraffes standing up to their bellies in cold water were ailing after the flood, but have since recovered.

Two peacocks, a pot-bellied pig and a variety of fish died.

Lanthier says damage at the zoo is so far pegged at $50 million, with another $10 million in lost revenue.

“The impact of the flood on our operation is staggering because we generate almost half our total revenue in July and August,” Lanthier said in a release Tuesday.

“In addition to damage to land and property, we will have a $10-million shortfall in revenue during the restoration period that we will not recover. In fact, we will lose $5 million in revenue in July alone.

"For a not-for-profit charity, this is a major blow."

Restoration is underway but the zoo will not be able to resume full operations until late November.

“We will work harder than ever to connect people with nature and the animals which share our planet," Lanthier said of the rebuilding effort.

Most of the zoo’s animals will remain in their familiar homes throughout the restoration period, but some may have to be temporarily relocated, Lanthier said.

In other flood-related news, many people who work in Calgary's downtown core returned to their jobs Tuesday for the first time since June 20 when severe flooding following heavy rains forced an evacuation of the downtown and low-lying neighbourhoods.

The office towers that house many of Canada's biggest oil companies were crippled by power outages and water sloshing at their doors.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi had urged downtown workers to stay away to let emergency and cleanup crews do their jobs.

Now he's asking them to take public transit, car pool or ride their bikes to work as parking downtown is still in short supply.

Tuesday was also the first day for Calgarians to apply for disaster funding if they have property damage not covered by insurance companies.

Registration centres will be open until Sunday, but homeowners will have other chances to apply for financial help throughout the summer and fall.

The province is advising anyone who isn't applying for aid right away to take photos of any damage and save receipts for cleaning and repair expenses.

The city also says a preliminary damage estimate for public infrastructure is $256.6 million. The city remains under a state of emergency until at least Thursday.

At a late afternoon news conference Tuesday, Nenshi also reminded Calgarians that despite recent hot temperatures, they must continue to stay off the rivers.

"It is a scorcher, but going for a rafting trip down the Bow or Elbow rivers? Not a good idea."

He said the rivers continue to be full of dangerous debris.

"Do I have to say don't go swimming in them, either? Apparently I have to say that. Somebody yesterday apparently thought it was a good idea to go for a swim in the Bow River."

Nenshi said the good news was that the heat wave was forecast to break overnight, though he noted that also brought with it a severe thunderstorm watch.

"Because we need that, too," he said sarcastically. "I'm just not sure if aliens, zombies or locusts come next."

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