MEDICINE HAT, Alberta — Officials in the eastern Alberta city of Medicine Hat said today water levels on the South Saskatchewan River have peaked and that flooding won’t be as severe as initially feared.
Roughly 10,000 people were evacuated as the city of 60,000 prepared for the surge of water that swamped Calgary and surrounding areas last week in what the Alberta premier called the Canadian province’s worst flood ever. Three bodies have been recovered since the flooding began last Thursday in southern Alberta.
Ron Robinson, director of emergency measures in Medicine Hat, said the city is starting to turn its attention to recovery.
Some 1,000 homes have been hit by high water. About 1,500 people have registered at the city’s emergency center and accommodation has been provided for about 600. Medicine Hat Mayor Norm Boucher said it will be at least several days before anyone can go home.
In Calgary, the president of the Calgary Stampede said the world-famous event will go ahead next week “come hell or high water.” Bob Thompson said crews have been pumping millions of liters of water from the rodeo and fair grounds. Nearly a million people attend it every year.
“Throughout our entire history, we have never cancelled a show, despite two wars and a Great Depression — 2013 will be no exception,” Thompson said at a news conference.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced Sunday that 65,000 residents who had been ordered to evacuate were being allowed to return to assess the damage. Residents have been warned there is still a long way to go before the city and its downtown would be back to normal, although crews were working hard to clean up and restore utilities. Calgary’s downtown was evacuated last Friday.
People in High River, the community hardest hit by the flooding, didn’t have much reason for optimism. Mayor Emile Blokland said there was still no timeline for when 13,000 evacuees would be able to return.
He said he understood their frustration, but explained that the town’s infrastructure had suffered a “critical blow” and every house needed to be inspected.