This guest post has been contributed by my good friend Talia. Many thanks to you for your wonderful perspective:
I was born in Calgary and have spent most of my life here. I love this city and always have. Admittedly since the big boom hit Calgary I have often felt nostalgic for the “good old days” when Calgary was “just” 700,000 people and still somehow felt like a small town with a strong sense of community.
Since the floods hit last week that sense of nostalgia has now disappeared as the city that was once disconnected is again a strong knit community that feels like a large family. Those whose roots are here are reinvigorated. Those who have more recently joined our city are now experiencing what was historically very special about this place and are a part of what is making it great again… in fact, better than ever. The sense of community is contagious and spreading quickly.
I, like many others, have been glued to all reports on the floods since the skies opened and all hell broke loose last Thursday. I listened to CBC around the clock, had the news on, refreshed my facebook page continuously and joined every group associated with the floods. Heck I even got a Twitter account (@taliazink), which I swore I would never do. I felt a compulsive need to see everything. Each picture I saw was more shocking than the last, each video clip made the event feel increasingly surreal.
Yesterday was the first day I was able to go down to the areas that were most affected. My first stop was the Roxboro/Rideau Park area. My girlfriend had organized for several dozen bagged lunches to be made by her CBE colleagues and our plan was to help feed the volunteers and those whose homes had been affected. We packed up the lunches and our children and headed down.
I felt quite prepared for the outing. After all, I had seen everything that was available to be seen on the floods. We checked into volunteer centre and shared why we were there. The coordinator got teary as she thanked us for helping her neighbours. I believe she was especially moved by the presence of children who were eager to help. I received my first hint that things were not going to be as I had expected when she asked us “if we were sure we wanted to enter with the kids.” Still not really understanding why we wouldn’t, we reaffirmed our desire to help however we could.
As we entered the community, I realized that there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I was about to see. Similarly, I am finding my words inadequate in properly describing what we found. The devastation was truly unimaginable. Mud lined the streets and was splattered across the homes. It consumed the vehicles that had obviously not escaped the floods. As we walked we had to navigate our way around huge piles of debris that were often taller than we were made up of appliances, electronics, and countless personal items. These piles along the street had merged together into a continuous baracade given the serious shortage of vehicles to haul the loads away. As a new mum, it especially tugged on my heart strings when I saw piles of children’s books, a dollhouse, a stuffed animal – things you knew were special to someone who just wasn’t old enough to possibly understand what had happened. Not that age grants any of us further comprehension.
Those who have helped within the homes again echo that nothing can describe what they saw: Feet of mud covering everything. Water that not only destroyed basements and the ground level but sometimes went so high that it destroyed the ceiling/floor of the upper level. The sheer force of the water entering my friend's home in Bowness tore through his house so violently that it threw belongings everywhere - it was literally a raging river trying to make a path through his home which made going through the home and trying to find things in the aftermath nearly impossible. The race against time to get things out before mold took over often prohibited people from even thinking about trying to save any of their belongings. Everything got shoveled out, ripped out, cut out, thrown out.
Of the hundreds of homes we past, it was evident that the owners were all at drastically different stages. There were those who were deeply in the process of gutting their homes and others who were obviously still in shock as they sat on their doorsteps slowly turning the pages of their photo albums trying to salvage something.
The energy was equally mixed: a high from the incredible demonstration of community support and pockets of very real sadness and pain. While some people gratefully took food, others declined. As I offered food to an elderly gentleman, his eyes welled with tears as he told me he hadn’t been able to eat for days. This atrocity will be hard for all that have been affected especially those with additional challenges: the elderly, people with disabilities, families with small children, and people who already struggle with poverty.
I can appreciate that for some it may feel like "it's over" ... It's not over now. It won’t be over next week, or next month or the month after that. Although progress is being made, we are truly at the very very beginning. To get to the other side of this we need everyone to help in some way. Everyone can do something. Help do laundry, pass out water, grab a crow bar, gather donations, buy a gift card, help care for others children so they can help out, hold a hand. We need to pitch in for the long haul and we need everyone to help so that the help can be sustained for the long run. We have only just started to help communities like High River where the suffering is unfathomable.
I love you Calgary. I love everyone helping both from our community and beyond. You make me so proud. We can do this.