Three confirmed dead in Alberta flooding as evacuations continue
Published Friday, June 21, 2013 6:40AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 22, 2013 12:29AM EDT
The RCMP say three bodies have been found in the fast moving waters in Alberta as the province experiences the worst flooding in decades.
Police say two bodies were pulled from the Highwood River on Friday and another body has been located.
Two men were seen floating lifeless in the river near the hard-hit community of High River, located about 60 kilometres south of Calgary, on Thursday.
The identities of the victims have not been released.
Police are asking area residents to register at evacuations centres so they can determine if any other individuals are missing.
Officials ordered an evacuation Calgary’s entire downtown core -- an area where approximately 350,000 people work on a typical Friday. The city was a ghost town as of Friday afternoon, with an estimated 75,000 Calgarians having already been ordered to evacuate since floodwaters began spreading across the city on Thursday evening.
Twenty-five communities throughout southern Alberta are under an evacuation order, displacing tens of thousands of residents.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in the province Friday afternoon and toured the worst-hit areas with Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
“I've never seen anything like it,” Harper told reporters following the tour. “I've never imagined you could have a flood of this magnitude in this part of the country.”
He said in a statement that the people of central and southern Alberta are showing “tremendous strength and courage,” and the government is taking “swift action” to help flood victims.
The Canadian Armed Forces has deployed 1,300 soldiers to flooding zones, along with eight military helicopters and a military airplane.
In the hard-hit areas of Canmore and High River, 350 and 400 soldiers, respectively, will be in the areas by the evening.
Approximately 50 soldiers are en route to Calgary and another 300 to 400 are on standby.
Earlier Friday, Redford called on residents of flood-hit regions of the province to heed evacuation orders and head to higher ground, though she acknowledged it's not easy to abandon one's home.
"When that is asked, people really must leave, although it is an extremely difficult thing to do," she said, calling the flooding an "absolutely tragic situation."
Blair Marsden, who lives in downtown Calgary’s East Village, said he left his home Thursday night with only a small backpack of belongings.
“I walked away from the neighbourhood yesterday evening and looks like now my neighborhood is done,” he told CTV News on Friday. “I think my place is probably ruined.”
'This is going to take a long time to recover': MP
The Conservative Convention is scheduled to begin in Calgary on Thursday, while the Calgary Stampede is slated for 10 day, beginning July 5. However, officials are wondering if the events can take place in the flood-ravaged city.
The Conservative Party says it will make a decision on Monday on whether to proceed with the convention.
“I’m sure it will be a challenge, logistically, when you think about the hotels and the convention centre itself, the downtown infrastructure,” Immigration Minister and Calgary southeast MP Jason Kenney told Power Play on Friday.
“Cleary it’s the worst flooding in the city’s modern history, perhaps ever in its history.”
“This is going to take a long time to recover,” he said.
The Calgary Zoo, located on an island close to point where Elbow and Bow rivers meet has moved animals to higher ground and relocated two pot-bellied pigs and two zebras.
The 19,000-seat Saddledome -- the home ice of the Calgary Flames and a major site for the Calgary Stampede -- had water levels reach its 10th row of seats. The Stampede is scheduled to start two weeks from today.
A hospital in High River and three medical clinics in Calgary were also shut down by Friday afternoon.
Mayor: River 'looks like an ocean'
Calgary’s mayor said the Bow River "looks like an ocean at the moment" but said it appears to have reached a plateau, and is expected to remain steady at a flow rate of about 1,500 cubic metres per second for the next 12 hours.
The Elbow River has crested and has a current flow rate of 650 cubic metres per second, Nenshi said.
"The good news is that it is slowly reducing. We have peaked and we are seeing a slow decrease," Nenshi said.
"We have the situation under control as much as the situation can be under control."
He said About 1,500 residents have gone to emergency shelters, while the majority of people are staying with family or friends.
But displaced residents seemed to be taking the upheaval in stride.
“I guess a lot of people are displaced. I can't imagine what all the seniors are feeling, especially all the ones that don't have anyone to go to," said Ursula Mailhot, who lives in a seniors’ residence in the Bridgeland neighbourhood located northeast of downtown.
Mailhot told The Canadian Press that authorities told her Thursday night that her building was being evacuated. While her husband is “bewildered,” Mailhot remained upbeat.
"It's an adventure," she said. "Laugh about it. It's one of those things."
City officials say if the weather cooperates, the water should begin receding over the weekend.
However, communities in southern Alberta are being warned that the widespread flooding is expected to add massive amounts of water to the South Saskatchewan River basin.
Emergency officials are warning the citizens of Medicine Hat to brace for flooding and the city has declared a state of emergency.
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