Today has been the most unusual, and shocking day I've ever spent living in Calgary, Alberta.
I woke up, just like any other day, bright and early. I got ready for work and headed out to the car. The first words I heard on the radio, as I pulled out into the driveway were from our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, warning everyone to stay home. "Stay away from down town Calgary," he said.
I shifted out of reverse, drove right back into the garage, turned the car off, went in the house and turned CBC News on the radio and CTV News on the television. There was our friend, from my younger days at CTV, Elissa Carpenter, reporting live from Canmore, Alberta -- a beautiful town at the edge of the Canadian Rockies that had been literally washed away. I knew that this town had been hit hard the day before by heavy rains. I also knew that many other towns surrounding Calgary such as High River, and Bragg Creek had been devastated by flooding and mud slides. To be honest, flooding in these areas was no surprise. Every 5 - 10 years, Bragg Creek and High River, as the name implies, suffer flooding from cyclical heavy spring rains combined with spring run-off from the melting snow in the Rocky Mountains.
But what was happening in Calgary that would prompt the Mayor to tell everyone to stay home? Don't go to work. "All CBE schools are Closed," said CBC's David Grey on the radio.
When I saw the video on television, I couldn't believe my eyes. The entire downtown core of Calgary under water. Where streets used to be... rivers. Water up to the steps of old City Hall. Water, the colour and clarity of chocolate milk, all the way up the staircase to the Saddledome in Stampede Park.
The thunder storms and almost daily downpours that we've had throughout the month of June, have been unprecedented, but not unexpected. It always rains in June in Calgary. And yes, every 5 - 10 years or so, we can expect flooding in certain areas. Usually the homes built right up to the edge of the Elbow River with their back yards reaching right down to the river banks are the hardest hit. But nothing like this.
Aerial video shot by the CBC today revealed the vast expanse of low lying, and not so low lying areas of the city covered in water. Visuals of the city streets down town, parks and were nothing less than shocking. The Calgary Zoo was in the process of evacuating it’s facilities located on St. George’s Island in the Bow River to protect all creatures large and small. Visions of building an Ark come to mind, but this story from Global Calgary help to paint the picture. Even Memorial Drive had completely merged with the Bow River.
One photo that I saw today, that has appeared in newspapers across the country of Calgary’s Centre Street Bridge would not necessarily shock a non-resident of the city. In this photo, yes, you see water running unusually high below a classic arched bridge… but what you have to understand is that there are two road ways on this bridge… One at the top, and one, now below water.
Calgarians are some of the most friendly, outgoing, and helpful people you’ll ever meet. So when we’re told to stay home and do nothing, it simply goes against our nature. We help each other in times of growth, and most definitely, in times of need. Those who can, have opened their homes to friends and family forced out of their own homes. But for the most part, we’re trying to what we’ve been told to do. Staying home, out of the way, of emergency responders, and those trained to keep this city running. But it is difficult, when you see your city utterly devastated, and you know you could lend a helping hand.
This is a young, vibrant, city that has been built upon the strength of pioneers. Every decade has brought waves of newcomers, who have taken on adversity and helped Calgary grow… through boom to bust, drought to flood, war to peace. Given the opportunity, Calgarians will step up again, to help rebuild homes, structures and community bonds.