Calgary to begin flood cleanup as downtown to remain closed

By Jeremy van Loon and Edward Welsch, Bloomberg News

Calgary’s downtown, home to Canada’s oil industry, will remain closed through the early part of next week after swollen rivers flooded parts of the city, cutting off power and forcing evacuations. At least three deaths due to the flooding were reported Saturday.

Office towers that are home to oil and gas companies including Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Imperial Oil Ltd. will remain shut as waters recede from underground parking garages and underpasses, and city workers restore power, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said today at a news conference. The city had ordered the evacuation of 75,000 residents as rivers spilled over their banks.

“People won’t be able to work in downtown offices” at least for the early part of the week, Nenshi said. “Considerable water remains downtown. If you want to help your city, the best thing you can do is stay at home.”

Calgary imposed a state of emergency and began evacuations on June 20, according to the city’s website. Residents also were advised to leave their homes in communities across a more than 150-mile (242-kilometer) stretch of southern

Alberta, where rain-swollen rivers flowed east from the Rocky Mountains and flooded low-lying areas in the foothills and prairies.

The city declared the neighborhood of Discovery Ridge open to residents and will allow residents to return to their homes in parts of 25 communities in low-lying areas as water levels fall, Nenshi said. The municipality is restricting water use in order to maintain drinkable-quality water.

Three bodies were recovered from the Highwood River near the town of High River, with an unconfirmed report of a fourth deceased person in the river, the Alberta Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement. As many as 1,000 people were rescued by helicopter and boat from the town of 13,000 about 30 miles south of Calgary, the RCMP said.

The Bow and Elbow rivers, which meet near the middle of Calgary, surged from their banks into neighborhoods and were expected to remain high for several days. The flooding will likely have an impact on the scale of the Calgary Stampede, the city’s best-known cowboy festival, the mayor said.

Calgary suffered its worst flooding in about a century in June 2005 when surging waters damaged 40,000 homes and forced the evacuation of 1,500 people, according to the city website. Water on the Elbow River late on June 20 was flowing more than three times faster than during the 2005 flood, Alberta Premier Alison Redford told reporters Saturday.

Six to eight inches of rain fell into the river basins near Calgary beginning June 19, and more than 12 inches fell in the Sheep River basin southwest of the city. Environment Canada forecast a 30 percent chance of rain with a risk of thunderstorms Sundy with temperatures rising and becoming sunny next week.

Many of the city’s bridges remain closed, while some were under water and power was out in many downtown buildings, according to the city’s website.

Power is gradually being restored as water levels fall, according to Enmax, the municipally-owned utility. About 30,000 customers were without power as of noon Saturday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada announced that it will postpone its national convention in Calgary, scheduled for next week.

Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome, where events are scheduled to be held during the Calgary Stampede in two weeks, was flooded up to the 10th row yesterday, according to Trevor Daroux, the city’s deputy police chief. Animals from the Calgary Zoo were evacuated or moved to higher ground, he said.

“The Stampede may not look the same as last year,” Mayor Nenshi said at today’s press conference. The event is scheduled from July 5 to 14 and usually welcomes about 700,000 guests, according to the event’s website.
Fraser Logan, a Canadian Forces spokesman, said 1,200 regular troops from Edmonton were being deployed to southern Alberta. The soldiers were to provide humanitarian relief, conduct search-and-rescue missions and help with evacuation, while police remain responsible for security, Logan said.

People in several other towns in southern Alberta were evacuated, including from High River, Okotoks, Black Diamond, Canmore and the ski resort town of Banff.

A low pressure system moved in off the Pacific and crossed the U.S. Pacific Northwest last week, said Bernie Rayno, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. The movement of the storm and the topography of the Canadian Rocky Mountains create “ideal conditions” for heavy rain, Rayno said.

“Some areas in the mountains got 5 inches of rain in 24 hours,” Rayno said. “Where is that water going to go? Down into the streams. Epic flooding is occurring in southern Alberta. This is as bad as it gets.”

Alberta crop and livestock producers may suffer losses from the floods, although officials won’t know the extent of damage until waters recede, Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said. Initial reports suggest that most of the damage is isolated to areas along river banks and creeks, Olson said in a telephone interview from Edmonton. The flooding has forced some producers to move livestock to higher ground, he said.

Alberta is home to 40 percent of Canada’s cattle herds and is also a grower of wheat and canola, among other crops, data show. Eighty-five percent of crops in the western province were rated in good or excellent condition as of June 18, prior to flooding, the agriculture ministry said.

Officials are monitoring the integrity of dams used for farm irrigation, Olson said. More water is expected to reach agricultural land near the city of Medicine Hat today from the South Saskatchewan River.