High River evacuees to begin returning home
Published Friday, June 28, 2013 9:20AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 28, 2013 9:57PM EDT
High River residents displaced by massive flooding will begin to return to their homes starting on Saturday, Alberta officials announced Friday.
Approximately 5,000 residents who live in the northwest part of the town will be allowed in beginning mid-day.
Bus tours are also being arranged for those residents who want to see their homes, assess damage and retrieve some personal belongings.
Temporary housing is being constructed to accommodate residents whose homes may be uninhabitable due to extensive flood damage, officials said Friday.
Residents whose homes are still underwater have been told that it will be three to five weeks at the earliest before they’ll be able to return.
The re-entry, which will happen in phases, comes as the Alberta government takes over the recovery and rebuilding of High River.
The town’s mayor Emile Blokland requested the aid Friday morning.
“It’s become clear that the size and scope of this disaster is bigger than anything we’ve ever seen before in Alberta,” Blokland told reporters Friday.
Emergency operations, programs and services will now be covered by the province.
Blokland said handing over control of the city was an “extremely difficult” decision, but that town officials have been overwhelmed in the aftermath of the flood.
“I can tell you, fatigue is beginning to set in,” Blokland said of staff, who have been working at the emergency response centre for the past eight days.
“The situation is simply much bigger, more complex, and more difficult than our municipal council can handle,” he said.
He said the destruction left in the flood’s wake is worse than the devastation caused by wildfires in Slave Lake in 2011.
The 13,000 residents of High River, who have been out of their homes for a week, have been frustrated for several days about what they say is a lack of communication from town officials about when they could return to check on their homes.
The province will also co-ordinate returning residents to their homes in High River.
“It’s nice. I hope it’s going to relieve some of the stress,” said resident Dusty Evenson. “I mean, everybody’s in the same boat but a lot of people are getting out of control.”
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said High River’s infrastructure has suffered more damage than any other community in Alberta.
“Two-thirds of this community is still under water because it is a collection bowl for the water, which means we have much more challenging infrastructure needs to meet before we can allow people to roll back in,” he said.
Inspectors have mobilized in the community and power has been partially restored, Griffiths said.
Shortly after the Alberta government announced the takeover, an update was provided on the power and water situation in Calgary.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Mayor Naheed Nenshi told residents “to continue to reduce water use as much as they can.”
Gianna Manes, CEO of ENMAX, the company that provides electricity to Calgary residents, gave an update on the power outage situation in the city.
“We have restored power to approximately 34,000 customers since the height of the flood last week,” she told reporters.
The two areas without power are the east side of the downtown core and the east village.
“By this time Saturday, I am confident that I will be able to report that the entire ENMAX system will be up and running,” Manes said.
In addition, there are still a number of inspections being carried out in the city.
Earlier, the RCMP said that three people were arrested this week trying to get into High River, but were caught by officers on patrol. Mounties have now stepped up their presence around the perimeter of the community, with officers posted at various checkpoints and roving patrols throughout the evacuated areas.
The RCMP also revealed Thursday that officers had seized a “substantial” number of firearms from homes in the evacuated town.
The Prime Minister’s Office has weighed in on this issue, saying the RCMP should focus its attention on protecting lives and private property.
The news angered many residents who wondered why police had the right to enter residents' homes and take belongings. Sgt. Brian Topham responded the move was made for the sake of safety.
Carl Vallee, press secretary for the PMO, added that the Mounties should deal with more pressing matters and that the firearms that were taken will be returned to their owners “as soon as possible.”
“We just want to make sure that all of those things are in a spot that we control, simply because of what they are,” he said Thursday. "People have a significant amount of money invested in firearms … so we put them in a place that we control and that they’re safe.”
RCMP said Friday that hundreds of firearms had been removed. Insp. Garrett Woolsey said officers removed only firearms that were in plain view.
“We secured these firearms only for public safety reasons,” he said, before adding that the weapons would be returned to their owners “as soon as possible.”
Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis told CTV’s Power Play Friday the RCMP have the right under the Criminal Code to secure property, especially in the event of an emergency.
“The key thing is, it’s storage, it’s not confiscation or seizure,” Denis said. “My only concern is, during the flood there may be vital documents that have been destroyed by the flood and what happens in the event that an individual doesn’t have access to that information to actually obtain their private property when it’s safe to do so.”
Denis said he’ll be working with the RCMP to ensure that the firearms are returned to their lawful owners.
With files from CTV Calgary