Saturday, 6 July 2013

#yycflood: The Narrative

Eight years ago, Calgary flooded. They said then that it was a hundred-year flood. This summer, Calgary flooded even worse. I guess that means we're set to be flood free until the year 2200.

There is altogether too much information to compile in one little blog post: the damages, the recovery, the political consequences. My family was barely touched; the day when our house goes underwater is the day the entire world stops in morbid interest to watch Calgary's demise. Nevertheless, this summer I have added one more point onto my list of life advice: never build your house on a flood plain. 

On Thursday night, my sister and I were at an awards ceremony downtown. The speaker introduced the night, explaining that his wife was at home, keeping an eye on the water levels. His philosophy was that if his house flooded, it would flood whether he was there or not.

A prominent local politician from a neighbouring town was supposed to be attending the ceremony; when one of her compatriots phoned to ask whether she was still able to come, she stated that her house was flooded, her clothes all ruined, she was stacking sand bags at the hospital which was being run by a generator, please don't call her any more because her phone battery was low on juice and - oh, a duck just swam by.

But the ceremony proceeded unhindered. And after the ceremony, my sister Brianna went to a homeless youth project she volunteers with and I, unaffected, went to my friend Holly's place to watch a movie. She lives in the community of Mission. Earlier in the day, Holly hadn't been sure whether they'd be evacuated or not, but gave the green light to visitors around nine o'clock.

We'd also started to hear of road and bridge closures prior to the ceremony, but sitting in Holly's living room, watching singing and dancing actors, it didn't seem like a big deal. A few times, after a particularly loud boom of thunder, I glanced out the window and said something about "I might have to leave early if it keeps raining this hard or it might be difficult to get home," but I ended up staying until the end of the movie.

Brianna came to Holly's place around midnight so we could drive home together. "Downtown is flooding," she said. "All the homeless shelters are being evacuated. Our place is sending the kids to a church."

Holly gave us directions out of the neighbourhood. "The bridge over the river was fine when I came home, around six," she said. "You should still be able to cross it." If not, she said, backtrack and cross it further north.

"Are you being evacuated?" I asked Holly.

"You're supposed to put a big X on your door when you evacuate," said Bri. "That way the police know you're safe."

"And also that no one is home so it's open for the looting," I said.

"Downtown will probably be looted tonight," said Brianna.

"I don't know if we're leaving," Holly said. "I don't want to be looted."

At this point, the concept of "flood" crossed the line in my mind from abstract idea to current reality. "Holly, do you and Jake need a place to stay?" I said. "You'd be welcome at our place."

"Thanks," she said. "We'll go to his parents' house if we have to."

Bri and I couldn't cross the bridge. The road was closed a block away from the river. We found an open bridge; the water was a foot or two beneath the roadway.

Windshield wipers going at maximum capacity, we drove down the arterial road trying to not aquaplane. As we passed the mall, dozens of police cars lined the street, some of them with lights flashing. "Maybe to ward off looters?" I suggested.

"You think they'd have more important things to do than protect a mall," said Bri.

We later found out that the police headquarters were underwater. The mall had become their emergency camp.

We got home without so much as a where-are-you-are-you-ok text from Mom or Dad, which surprised us both a bit. "Is it that bad?" asked Mom, watching a TV show on wedding dress shopping. "I know it's bad in some areas."

"It's pretty bad," we said.

Holly and Jake went to their parents' house in the wee hours of the morning. She texted me:

We got the idea when they cut off our electricity.

On Friday morning, it stopped raining. I dressed for work and checked the road closures online. It looked like I could still get to work normally, but I called my boss because I was concerned that if or when it rained more, I'd end up stranded.

"Ok," he said, "Alternate routes... you could take this other road north and cross through downtown-"

"Downtown?" I said. "Downtown is closed."

"It's closed?" he said.

"Yes," I informed him.

"Oh," he said. "It's that bad? It's sunny here."

About five minutes later he phoned me back. "I've done my research now," he said. "The mayor is asking everyone to stay at home, if they can, so we won't work today."

This is the impact the flood has had on me, personally: I missed one day of work. Over a hundred thousand people were evacuated; many had homes that were completely destroyed and many of those that didn't lost vehicles or had major damage to their houses. The surrounding towns are changed forever. I missed a day of work. And made up for it on Saturday.

In the afternoon, I got an email from one of the deacons at my church in Moose Jaw, inquiring about my safety and letting me know she was praying. It made me feel incredibly special, even if I'm really not one of the ones whose safety or property was threatened. Consider her prayers extended to all of southern Alberta.

My sister had to get to the airport for Saturday morning, and she was concerned about trying to do it in the wee hours like originally planned. Trying to navigate across a city full of flooded roads and street closures while on a schedule in the black hours of morning didn't sound enticing, so she opted to have us drive her out extremely early and sleep the night in the terminal.

On the way home, we passed a fish hatchery. It was a lake of rapids that licked the roadway. Dozens of cars were pulled over so that people could get out and gape. We didn't pull over; I gaped as we drove by and forgot to take any pictures. This is the best one I could find online:
We passed a golf course. It was an archipelago of manicured hills.
We crossed a bridge. "It'll be fine," said Dad. "This one's a particularly high bridge." And it is. Even so...
For the most part, Calgary seems to think that we're in recovery mode and no longer in danger. Though, just the other night, parts of the city flooded again in a major thunderstorm.

Next post, I'll relate some short points and observations about the flood that don't all have to do with what happened (or didn't happen) to me. For now, I'll leave you with a few more pictures. There's a huge amount of incredible pictures of the flooding all over the internet. These are a few of my favourites (they do not belong to me):

Just a couple blocks away from Holly and Jake's place:
 This one pretty much sums up the weather this year:
And finally, the joy in their faces on this one makes me think of the Arabic graffiti John Green quoted in his convocation address earlier this year, which will be the quote for this post:
Apparently, in a war torn city in the Middle East, on the side of a crumbling house, is painted the graffiti:

"Happy birthday, sir, despite the circumstances." 

Despite the circumstances, Alberta.

1 comment:

Art said...

After seeing what water can do, I agree with the statement: Do not build in a flood zone. I am sure some of the places that flooded were not considered flood zones but this was a nasty way to learn. I have heard some houses three weeks later are still under water. There is little hope for those houses.

I lost three days of work as the office was shut down. Still, that is much preferable to having a flood in the basement.