Redford tells Medicine Hat residents: If you're asked to leave, 'please evacuate'
Published Saturday, June 22, 2013 6:30AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 22, 2013 11:58PM EDT
The city of Medicine Hat is under a state of emergency as it braces for rising waters and heavy flooding over the coming days, expecting water levels similar to those that hit low-lying areas of Calgary in recent days.
Medicine Hat, approximately 300 kilometres southeast of Calgary, issued a mandatory evacuation in the low-lying areas of the city. The South Saskatchewan River, which winds through the city, is expected to rise Sunday and crest Monday.
According to the city’s website the river is expected to peak early Monday morning with a flow rate between 5,100 to 6,000 cubic metres per second.
Nearly 10,000 residents were scheduled to be relocated Saturday morning, and the gas was shut off in the evacuated area as of 2 p.m. local time. The city’s transit is moving people to the Evacuation Centre at the Medicine Hat College.
Electricity is also expected to be cut off. Several roads, including the entire Highway 41 Industrial Ave. corridor, have been closed.
Inmates at the Medicine Hat Remand Centre were being transferred to Lethbridge and Calgary, the Alberta Solicitor General announced in a tweet.
Residents of Medicine Hat are bracing for the worst.
“You can hear the river threatening,” one woman told CTV News. “It looks very placid but it’s not, and stuff is starting to come.”
Earlier reports indicated that as much as 70 per cent of the 10,000 residents were ignoring the order to leave their houses.
Speaking with reporters in Medicine Hat Saturday afternoon, Alberta Premier Alison Redford urged residents to follow orders from emergency responders.
“I would ask people that are being asked to evacuate, please evacuate,” she said. “I know that when we look at the sky and the sun is shining it’s sometimes a bit difficult to imagine what can come but it’s so much easier for the first responders if they’re actually able to deal in a community knowing exactly who is there and who isn’t there.”
Red ribbons have been affixed to homes to indicate that residents have left and have presumably sought shelter on higher ground.
As of Saturday evening, approximately 300 people had registered at the evacuation centre, while other residents welcomed strangers into their homes.
Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said earlier Saturday major preparations were underway in the city to protect lives and homes.
Emergency responders have moved out of areas at risk of flooding and temporary medical clinic has been set up. To minimize flood impact, volunteers have been sandbagging homes throughout the day, and crews will continue to work throughout the night constructing levees and berms.
“It’s almost a surreal calm before the storm,” Lukaszuk said in a phone interview with News Channel.
Medicine Hat Mayor Norm Boucher said the response to the anticipated flood has been swift.
“We’ve prepared ourselves,” he said. “The more time you have in advance for this, the better you are.”
In Lethbridge, located around 200 kilometres south of Calgary, a state of local emergency was lifted at around 10 a.m. Saturday.
The water levels of the Oldman River – which runs through the city -- are starting to recede after peaking at around 1 a.m. local time Saturday, according to the city’s website.
The city said the water in Lethbridge is safe to drink, and previous conservation requests have been lifted. Residents are still being advised to stay away from the river banks, while crews continue to assess damage and safety.
Redford also visited High River and Nanton Saturday, telling reporters that it will be up to community leaders and local emergency response teams to lead recovery efforts, including a re-entry plan for residents who were forced to leave their homes.
“There’s a lot of work that has to be done before that happens,” she said. “At this point in time we’re not through the crisis.”