City of Calgary avoids repeat, but effects of floods still felt (June 20, 2014)

Written by Kelly Cryderman

Published by The Globe and Mail on Friday, June 20, 2014

One year after the great flood, most of Calgary seems untouched by the disaster. A sense of relief pervaded the busy city in recent days as rain fell but heavy flooding failed to materialize.

There won’t be a repeat this year of the flooding that saw 35,000 homes evacuated, one elderly woman drown, and thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. But in riverside neighbourhoods where lots sit empty and homes remain abandoned, for the people who still haven’t found a permanent home, and in the minds of many Calgarians, the storm of June, 2013, still looms large.

“I just want it to be over,” said Mona Hayes, whose property 100 metres from Elbow River was heavily damaged in the flood.

Ms. Hayes has been locked in months-long battles with her insurance company and the province ever since she, her husband, John, and two cats were evacuated from their century-old home at 3 a.m. on June 21, 2013. One of the key points of contention with the government was the extent of damage from the flood and whether the wood-structure home, filled with mould and with a support wall washed away, was worth saving.

“You’re not picturing that you’re going to have flooding on your main floor,” said Ms. Hayes, 49, a hairstylist.

Now, after a year of stress and financial strain, Ms. Hayes believes her situation has taken a turn. The charity Samaritan’s Purse is footing much of the bill to build the couple a new home.

Tina St. Onge, 30, was working at a grocery store and living in a spacious rental with her boyfriend and her two young children when the floods hit. Her relationship ended as they moved from shelter to shelter in the weeks after the floods, and her children were sent to live with their father. She is now living with a friend in Calgary and said it’s been hard to stay positive. “So many people got affected by the whole situation.”

Marriages have been pushed to the breaking point, and seniors have lost irreplaceable mementos and houses they’ve owned for decades, said Emma May, a realtor who helped to organize a powerful homeowner lobby group – the Calgary River Communities Action Group – after the flood. Even 12 months on, “a lot of people are just stuck in limbo.”

In the worst flood-hit neighbourhoods closest to the Bow and Elbow rivers, the most nervous – or the most prepared – homeowners are fortifying their homes with sandbags, sump pumps and rocks. Businessman and philanthropist Allan Markin, the former chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and one of the owners of the Calgary Flames, has built an almost three-metre high, aluminum-panelled wall around his riverside home. The wall will be dismantled once flood season passes in late July.

City hall is trying to make sure people remember the community spirit that followed the flood, when people cleaned strangers’ basements and brought their neighbours baskets of food. Saturday will bring dozens of Neighbour Day events – including pancake breakfasts, barbecues and block parties – across the city.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said while the vast majority of people are back in their homes, the less-obvious effects of the flood are still being felt.

“We’ve seen an increase in visible panhandling on the street. It’s anecdotal, but agencies, the police and the city have started to notice this. And my hypothesis here is that people who were living on the margin may have been pushed further to the margin by the flood.”

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

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