High River residents frustrated by plans for re-entry to flood zone
Published Sunday, June 30, 2013 3:40PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 30, 2013 11:33PM EDT
Many evacuees in High River say the re-entry plan for their flood-stricken community is slow and confusing, and are frustrated as they compare their community's progress to the speedier efforts in Calgary.
Cam Crawford, who heads up the High River Residents Association, says the plan is "very, very cumbersome" and allows only certain people to assess the damage to their houses and begin necessary repairs
"It’s really ineffective and inefficient," he told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Crawford blames the provincial and municipal authorities for the bureaucratic process, saying the re-entry plan is "causing the frustration level in residents to grow exponentially here in the community, hour by hour."
Adding to the residents’ frustration is the speed at which Calgary is recovering from the flood.
"Up in Calgary, they’re three-quarters done," Barry Keller, a resident of High River told CTV News. "We’ve just barely even begun."
Tens of thousands of Calgarians have been able to return home since being forced to evacuate last week. Already, many of the city's former waterlogged neighbourhoods have been cleared of flood-damaged materials, as volunteers continue to pitch in.
Back in High River, many residents who say they want to help say they're being forced to wait behind RCMP roadblocks.
Officials have enforced a pass system and residents who want to cross the barriers are required to have a card. "There are swarms of people here that are ready to help but they’re making it difficult," said Darcy Bennett.
Beyond the checkpoints, residents were greeted by more confusion and mess.
Doors bent by the force of rushing water leaned against doorframes while the streets were filled with debris.
In one home that was formerly occupied by a 82-year-old widow, damaged furniture sat on a carpet lined with mud.
"The bed she slept in with her husband is now gone," said Shelly Berresford who was helping with the clean-up. "She was very upset about that."
High River’s 13,000 residents were forced to flee more than a week ago as floodwaters devastated large swaths of southern Alberta.
Alberta officials announced Friday that approximately 5,000 residents who live in the northwest part of town would be allowed in over the weekend.
On Saturday, residents of 1,817 homes were allowed back into the community to view the damage. Their homes were colour-coded to signify the extent of flood damage. More than 800 of those homes were either uninhabitable or had to be cleaned and renovated before anyone could stay there.
But the colour-coded system is proving to be confusing for some residents, who say the communication between officials and residents has been problematic.
"Emotionally we need to know. When they say you’re red, they have reasons why they’ve made us red but they haven’t told us," a woman named Yvonne told CTV News.
Crawford described the communication to residents as "abysmal."
“Everybody is craving information. Information calms people down, lack of information causes paranoia.”
That’s why the residents’ association is there to support affected families, Crawford said.
“We seem to have lost any advocates for the residents of High River,” he said. “Everybody is on the authority and elected officials’ side. They’re lining up on the side of the police state that we’re currently being administered.”
The director of the High River task Force, Shane Schreiber, said that officials are doing everything they can to let residents back in, but safety is the first priority.
“If you’ve been to a welcome centre, you’ve seen how desperate people are to get back to see their homes. We’re desperate to make that happen.”
Financial aid for flood victims
The Alberta government has pledged $1 billion in flood relief for affected families and communities.
Currently, immediate emergency funding is available to High River, Calgary and Canmore residents who were issued evacuation orders and are unable to return to their homes for at least seven days.
The province is handing out pre-loaded debit cards in the amounts of $1,250 per adult and $500 per child.
The debit cards became available to Calgary and Canmore evacuees on Sunday. High River evacuees were able to receive debit cards beginning on June 27.
Those who were ordered to evacuate but decided to remain in their homes do not qualify for the funding.
Additional financial aid is being provided through the province’s disaster recovery programs. The assistance is to be used to repair or rebuild damaged homes, as well as cover any other uninsurable property damage and loss caused by the flooding.
Starting on July 2, Calgary, Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray First Nation flood victims can apply for the assistance at designated locations.
The amount of relief funding each household receives is determined by the size of the home, the number of rooms and other factors, such as having a finished basement.
For a complete list of financial aid requirements and service locations, visit http://alberta.ca/RecoveryInformation.cfm