I've take the kids back up to Sherwood Park till Saturday when we plan on coming south to hopefully get into High River. I've asked a few people to provide their perspectives so anyone visiting this blog will have fresh inspiration. Here is what my sister-in-law had to say:
When I saw the first photos of Cougar Creek raging in Canmore, it was unbelievable. Then came High River. Incomprehensible. That is to say I actually didn’t believe it. I mean, I understood that it wasn’t a hoax. I’m not that nuts. But it wasn’t sinking in just how serious this was. That it wasn’t just a couple of homes on the river with a foot of water in the basement.
So when my husband and I were evacuated from our Sunnyside home on Thursday night I was in the middle of baking cookies to take camping for the weekend. I didn’t see it coming at all. We live two city blocks from the river and the banks are high.
For me it was just a normal summer day and I couldn’t wait to hit the road. I didn’t realize that road would be Deerfoot south to Mahogany, where we’d spend the next four days living with friends while we wondered what would happen to our house and our condo.
We rent a home in Sunnyside and own a condo in Mission that we recently sold. Both were in the heart of the evacuation zones. But even with the constant stream of news coverage in several rooms of our friends’ house, it was hard to believe it was actually happening. In Mahogany the sun was shining, the lawn was dry, we had beer and games. It was like camping without the tent.
But as photos of our neighbourhoods started circulating, it started to become very real. Suddenly our sunny little world was clouded with the thought that we might not have a home to go back to.
We snuck back down to Sunnyside on the weekend and saw that our street was completely spared. One block over the storm sewers had become geysers and the water was rising, so we were very aware of how lucky we were.
Our condo was another story. It was a few days before we could get into Mission to see it, and it was immediately apparent that the entire first floor was gone. Electrical, mechanical, hallways, everything. Still, we felt lucky because our condo is on the fourth floor. We talked to one of our neighbours who lives on the first floor and she told us her fridge wasn’t even in the kitchen anymore. The water had risen so high that her appliances were floating. Everything she owned was gone.
We knew this could mean we’d see a cash call, our renter might leave and, worse, the recent sale of our condo might fall through. But there was nothing we could do about any of that except wait. So we headed to a friend’s place around the corner and stared at his house in disbelief. It was one block closer to the river and his basement was now a distant memory.
Where do you even start with that kind of mess? He’d already pulled a bunch of stuff out, so for those last couple of hours of daylight, all we did was stare and wonder, what’s next? By the end of the next day we had the entire basement ripped out to the bones.
We spent the entire week in Sunnyside, Mission and Roxboro, helping neighbours, friends and complete strangers gut their houses. A big thank you to my bosses who told us all to take the rest of the week off to volunteer. I know a lot of businesses did the same, despite the revenue it would cause them to lose.
To see the streets at a glance in those first few days was devastatingly sad. Photo albums, kids toys, so many books — all destroyed. But from thick of it, down in the wet, dark, sludge-filled basements it was surprisingly joyful.
That sounds ridiculous but it’s the truth. The people who owned these homes were actually smiling. They recognized that all their stuff was just that — stuff. Did it suck that it was gone? Hell yeah. It sucked hard. But every single one of them understood that someone else had it worse and that, despite all this mess, they would be just fine. Life would go on, even if it went on a little lighter.
And they were so, so grateful for all the help they received from friends and neighbours, and even people they’ve never seen before in their lives. That first day in Sunnyside, I heard several people ask “do you live around here” and when they found out many of the bodies hauling crumbling drywall and dripping insulation from their basements had ventured from all over the city, as well as Edmonton and Saskatchewan (and even from Bowness or Mission where they couldn’t yet get in to see their own houses), they were blown away.
One woman told me she may have lost a lot, but she was so glad to have made friends in the neighbours that she never knew before that day. People who had passed one another without ever saying a word were now hugging and laughing together. They were sharing tools and pumps and generators and food. Their lives were quite literally crumbling beneath them, but they were holding onto whatever they could — mostly their sanity — together.
Life for all Calgarians is slowly beginning to resemble something close to normal. The city has done an incredible job of restoring power, gas and roadways and, like many people, are probably looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
Let’s hope our neighbours down in High River get there soon and do whatever we can to help them get there.
For us, the damage to our condo building is extensive and they’re saying it could be two months before anyone can move back into the building. Our renter is leaving and our sale hangs in the air, but if we’ve learned anything this week it’s that, in the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters.
I’ve never felt so tired, or inspired. Good night, Calgary.