CANADA

Floods force evacuation of downtown Calgary, Alberta

Downtown Calgary, centre of Canada's oil industry and the prime minister's hometown, is evacuated amid the deadly inundation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 11:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 6:58am
AP

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At least three people were killed by floodwaters that devastated much of southern Alberta, leading authorities to evacuate the western Canadian city of Calgary's entire downtown.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the level of flooding "stunning" and said officials did not know yet if it would get worse, but said the water had peaked and stabilised and noted that the weather had got better.

Overflowing rivers washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Patricia Neely said three were dead and two bodies had been recovered.

The two men had been seen floating lifeless in a river on Thursday, she said.

Harper, a Calgary resident, said he never imagined there would be a flood of this magnitude in this part of Canada.

"This is incredible. I've seen a little bit of flooding in Calgary before. I don't think any of us have seen anything like this before. The magnitude is just extraordinary," he said.

"We're all very concerned that if gets much more than this it could have real impact on infrastructure and other services longer term, so we're hoping things will subside a bit."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the water levels had reached a peak, but had not declined.

"We've sat at the same level for many, many hours now," Nenshi said. "There is one scenario that would it go even higher than this, so you'll either see the Bow River continue at this level for many hours or you will see it grow even higher, and we're prepared for that eventuality."

Twenty-five neighbourhoods in the city, with an estimated 75,000 people, were evacuated because of floodwaters in Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics and serves as the centre of Canada's oil industry.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said Medicine Hat, east of Calgary, was under a mandatory evacuation order affecting 10,000 residents. The premier warned that communities downstream of Calgary had not yet felt the full force of the floodwaters.

About 350,000 people work in downtown Calgary on a typical day. However, officials said very few people need to be moved out, since many heeded warnings and did not go to work on Friday.

A spokesman for Canada's defence minister said 1,300 soldiers from a base in Edmonton, the provincial capital, were being deployed to the flood zone.

Police were asking residents who were forced to leave the nearby High River area to register at evacuation shelters. The town of High River remained under a mandatory evacuation order.

In downtown Calgary, water inundated homes and businesses in the shadow of skyscrapers. Water swamped cars and train tracks.

City officials said the home rink of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames flooded and the water inside was 10 rows deep. That would mean the dressing rooms are likely submerged as well.

"I think that really paints a very clear picture of what kinds of volumes of water we are dealing with," said Trevor Daroux, the city's deputy police chief.

At the grounds for the world-famous Calgary Stampede fair, water reached up to the roofs of the chuckwagon barns.

The popular rodeo and festival is the city's signature event. Mayor Nenshi said it would occur no matter what.

About 1,500 have gone to emergency shelters while the rest have found shelter with family or friends, Nenshi said.

The flood was forcing emergency plans at the Calgary Zoo, which is on an island near where the Elbow and Bow rivers meet. Lions and tigers were being prepared for transfer, if necessary, to prisoner holding cells at the courthouse.

Schools and court trials were cancelled on Friday and residents urged to avoid downtown. Transit service in the core was shut down.