Images from High River flood zone

Mud, dust and silt cover flood-ravaged town still deemed unsafe

Emily Senger/Maclean's

I’ve been in the High River, Alta. area for three days now, writing about the flooding in my hometown, and today I made it in. Until now, the area has been deemed unsafe for a bunch of journalists who want to see what happened.

More importantly, the town has been deemed unsafe for the 13,000 residents who remain displaced, waiting for any sign that they’ll be let in. Some homes damaged in the flood with have to be bulldozed and rebuilt, but for those that have some water in the basement and no structural damage, each passing day brings new concerns about the potential rot and mould a pool of stagnant water sitting in a basement could cause.

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith voiced the concerns of many residents today, when she told media that there wasn’t enough information going out to citizens. At present, Mayor Emile Blokland is using local radio stations and in-person briefings in the evacuation centres in neighbouring towns. The town is also using social media to provide updates.

In the northwest part of town, particularly, roads are dry, a door-to-door search is complete and citizens should be allowed in, said Smith, who also lives in High River and is the MLA for the riding. “As a measure of goodwill to this community, they have got to start letting people back in,” Smith told reporters.

However, Blokland says the town remains unsafe. Crews have built a burm and beginning to pump water out from a large lake that covers much of the northeast portion of town. A timeline for reentry seems closer Tuesday than it was three days ago, but Blokland says he doesn’t have dates yet.

“We don’t have a flood. We have a disaster,” Blokland said. “Floods are very easy to deal with. Water comes, water goes and then we clean up afterwards. This is a major disaster we are dealing with. It’s at the same level as the Slave Lake fires that devastated that community.”

So, the people wait. Though, they may not even recognize their town when they get back. The parts I saw today look much different from the town I grew up in.

Here’s the road I usually take if I’m driving from Calgary or Edmonton to my parent’s house. Centre Street was washed out, but has since been graded by the town. The bridge that goes into town here crossed over the Highwood River. It is still standing, but has been deemed unsafe by engineers.

Centre Street in High River, Alta. looking towards downtown on Tues., June 25, 2013. (Emily Senger/Maclean's)

The once-paved road is dirt now, and everything in town has been blanketed in film of fine dust and silt. That silt may be contaminated with fecal matter, or other bacteria and viruses that could be dangerous to humans. Vehicles in town have been limited to 30 km/hour in an attempt to limit dust and journalists and officials had to wear dust masks during the tour.

This portion of road, just north of downtown, is flanked by a boat shop. The boats didn’t make it.

(Emily Senger/Maclean's)

Neither did this guy.

Emily Senger/Maclean's

Besides the silt covering everything, there is lots of mud. Near these houses, also just off Centre Street before downtown, a truck was burried up to its wheel wells.

Emily Senger/Maclean's

And more boats. This one crossed the street and came to rest in front of a badly damaged house.

Emily Senger/Maclean's

There are stalled out cars, like this one, everywhere. They have been pushed into strange angles by the water. If Cole is looking for his ride, I know where it is.

Emily Senger/Maclean's

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