One year ago we were camped out in a one star motel room in another town with our two dogs and very little else. We were evacuated from our down town Calgary home by the rising flood waters of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and I wasn’t prepared for the helpless feeling you get when you are faced with the unknown. It’s not a secret to those who know me that my anxiety goes into overload when faced with a situation I have no control over (yes I am a control freak and I make no apologies for that).
At first we were not going to evacuate. We can see the Bow River from our window and at that time I saw no imminent threat to our safety so even when the police came and told us to leave within the next few hours I told myself they were over reacting (believe me when I say I have learned a lot since then). Our sons phoned several times and told us to get out and to come and stay with them but since they live two hours away and I didn’t want to be that far away from our home we graciously declined their offer even when they persisted. Eventually, we agreed that they would call around for us and find a hotel room that accepts dogs close by and we would leave. Unfortunately, when 100,000 people are evacuated at the same time everyone has the same idea, there wasn’t a hotel room available within 100 kilometres.
By this time it was 10:00pm and we were experiencing torrential rain. We decided that the best thing to do was to stay put for the night and see how things looked in the morning (did I mention we have never been in an evacuation zone before). Within the next half an hour we lost power, gas and water and the normally vibrant down town area of the city of Calgary was plunged into complete darkness.
My husband then decided that he would no longer listen to my arguments about staying and told me to pack some things and that we are leaving NOW! With one flash light between us we put the dogs in the truck along with our overnight bags and proceeded to leave our area. Our neighbourhood is surrounded on three sides by river so we pretty much have to cross a bridge to get out. By this time police and fire rescue were everywhere blocking access to our ‘hood and we realized that this was much more serious than we thought. We finally drove to an area with a vantage point of our area and sat in disbelief.
We live across the Bow River from the wonderful Calgary Zoo and much of it was now under water. A train bridge that spanned the river (the very one I walked our dogs under almost everyday) was being swallowed by the rising water and there was a fully loaded train parked on it to try and weigh it down. We sat in silence watching the raging river for what seemed like hours before we finally looked at each other and decided we needed a plan because we were not going home any time soon. We had received several calls from friends offering us a place to stay but we politely declined. We didn’t want to burden our friends with not only putting us up but having two dogs to deal with too and there was no way I was leaving our dogs behind or putting them in the already overloaded animal shelters that were accepting pets of evacuees. By 2:00am, after many phone calls we finally found a motel two towns away that welcomed us and our dogs with open arms. With saddened hearts we left our vantage point knowing that we had no idea when or what we were returning to.
The next morning I came to the realization that I am a terrible emergency packer. I had packed toiletries and plenty of clean knickers thankfully, but all I had to wear were 2 t shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of flip flops and the wellies and clothes I was wearing the night before. Hubby was happy he had packed his own bag at this point. We sat in that cheap but clean motel room watching the news coverage in disbelief…… the whole down town area had flooded. Water had backed up through the storm drains, had flooded underground tunnels and completely flooded underground parkades.
That’s when twitter became my friend. Our Mayor, City of Calgary and the Calgary Police took to twitter to communicate what was happening. I can never thank them enough for keeping us all informed and calming our nerves during this unsettling time. We spent six long nights in that motel room before we decided that we could no longer live with not knowing if our home was affected, especially when all the photos on twitter showed the streets around us had flooded.
This 4 lane underpass separates our neighbourhood from down town.
Thankfully, we escaped damage. Our basement was bone dry which was amazing, especially when the condo complex behind us still had four floors of underground parkade underwater. We still had no electricity or gas but ironically we had water. After cleaning out our fridges and freezers filled with rotting food and checking our neighbours to see if everyone faired as well as us we made a plan. We donned wellies and gloves and headed over to the next street to see if we could help in any way…. call it guilt but we couldn’t just sit there and watch others with basements underwater when we had faired so well. By evening we were covered in mud, exhausted, still powerless but happy to sleep in our own beds.
Needless to say the next few weeks changed the lives of many Calgarians forever. I am so proud of the city we have chosen to call our home. The resiliency of the people, the kindness of strangers and the can do attitude is what makes Calgary a great city to live in. One year ago the city was in despair caused by the force of Mother Nature, one year later the city has declared today Neighbour Day to celebrate the people of Calgary and appreciate that without the kindness of our neighbours we wouldn’t be where we are today.