Downtown Calgary on June 21 (Photo credit: Ryan Quan)
“We don’t have a flood, we have a disaster,” Emile Blokland, mayor of High River, told a scrum of reporters standing in the middle of a half-flooded street. His town of a little over 10,000 was left a hellish, muddy mess by the receding waters. So too was much of the Canadian province of Alberta. Four people were left dead.
About six months worth of rain fell in less than 36 hours in some parts– on land already saturated with water. It turned the relatively dry region into a soaked sponge within a couple days. The rivers that flow through the province were soon overwhelmed with flood waters coming down from the mountains, and they soon began flowing at five to ten times their normal rate.
In Calgary, 75,000 were forced to evacuate as the water swallowed streets. The city’s downtown is sandwiched between the Elbow and Bow Rivers. Office buildings, infrastructure, the local zoo, and the home of the Calgary Flames were left soaked as hippos escaped from their enclosures and the Saddledome was filled like a bathtub up to the 10th row.
Calgary, naturally, is a hockey town, and one that produces a good deal of NHL players. Jeff Schultz, a Washington Capital at least for now, lives in his hometown during the offseason. He toured the devastation with his wife last week, calling it “indescribable.” Mike Green also grew up there, right downtown. Green was unsettled as he watched the flood unfold from Virginia as it ripped through a city he loves.
“It’s a big city — we have 1.3 million people there — but it still has the small town vibe,” he told me by phone a few days before he was set to fly back to Calgary for the summer. “Everybody kind of knows each other. They had refugee camps set up in case people needed to go them, but yet everybody still had family that lived there or some place to go. Nobody was stranded. I think that goes show the intimate feeling Calgary still has. . . There’s been a great response from the people, just being positive.”
Green’s former neighborhood was spared from significant damage, as was his offseason home a few minutes to the east. Some of his friends, however, were in the path.
“There were a couple people that needed to be evacuated from their places, and obviously they did so in time,” Green said. “Nobody was injured, but I’m sure there was damage. A lot of the people that were downtown that were affected were living in apartment buildings and whatnot. None of my friends had homes that were washed away or anything like that. Thank God.”
“I’m sure pictures do no justice to how bad it is,” he added. “Seeing that Saddledome with the water up 10, 12 rows really hit home for me. Wow, if it’s that high the rest the of city is completely trashed and demolished. It puts everything in perspective, how terrible it was.”
A week later, power is beginning to be restored as water and residents are starting to return to their ruined homes. However, Alberta Premier Alison Redford said the cleanup could take 10 years. Early damage estimates range in the billions of dollars. The kicker, though, is that many people in the area don’t have flood insurance. Though there was some flooding in 2005, the area usually doesn’t experience anything like this. (“It’s either frozen or really, really dry,” Green quipped.)
Around 8,000-12,000 homes in Calgary have been left inhabitable, with the possessions inside ruined. Now, their owners may be left with little money to replace them. Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi said the “immense” destruction could take months to fully asses.
By now, the flood waters are largely gone. We probably won’t hear much about Calgary’s problem anymore, aside from maybe an update on the Saddledome on a hockey blog. Thousands of people, though, remain out of their homes and without insurance money to fall back on. When he gets back to Calgary, Green will join pros including Jordan Eberle and Mike Commodore at his local gym, Crash Conditioning, to try to use their pull for good.
“We’re gonna try to help in any way we can, whether it’s physical or just being present somewhere,” Green said.
In the meantime, there’s a simple way to join Green and help Alberta out: donating to the Canadian Red Cross.
“It’s my hometown that I grew up in, that I was bred in,” Green said. “I’m far away from home, but it’s important to me. If you’re a Caps fan, anything would help.”
The Saddledome (Photo credit: Torie Peterson)