Flood Update: Hurt, Hope and Nenvy

Nen-vee T-ShirtIn certain areas of Calgary you can still taste the swamp in the air.  Debris forms ghostly fences in the middle of fields on the flood plain, reminders of the river’s ravaging reach.

Not all the roads are reopened and not all buildings are back to normal but the atmosphere is nothing short of “heady”!

Against impossible odds, the 101 Calgary Stampede is in full swing. Not without hitches, mind you, for the Saddledome could not be reclaimed in time for the big musical acts.

In the last two weeks hundreds of added staff have pumped and preened and polished the grounds and one would almost never guess the place was so recently under several feet of water and mud.

Crews completely rebuilt the racetrack, hauling in untold tons of material and constructing a half-mile of hell in mere days.  (I wonder if anybody got the irony).

What’s happened at Stampede Park is nothing compared to the outpouring of unconditional love exhibited by Calgarians, Albertans, and Canadians.

Red Cross donations reach monumental proportions.

Swarms of roving volunteers roam streets throughout flooded communities to haul trash out of basements followed by troops of other volunteers who, at their own expense, feed and water the worker bees.

Folks have come from BC and Saskatchewan with trucks and pumps to help out, leaving businesses and personal lives behind.

I attended a Stampede function on the weekend where several folks tossed in $100 bills and refused their tickets for the Flood Relief 50/50 draw. The winner donated back the $1400 she won. Her generosity brought down the house.

It’s not just Calgary. The devastated community of High River is now the focus of the volunteers, doing what they can to help alleviate the pain. Some homes are beyond salvaging and are likely not covered by insurance.

We can’t imagine what that will do to young families.

How many people have enough saved to payoff a $300,000 mortgage on a house that is a pile of rubble and another $300,000 to rebuild? And furniture and clothing and appliances? I reckon none.

Some have no land on which to build since the rivers carved out new paths.

The flood heavily damaged St George’s Island and the Calgary Zoo is not expected to reopen until late fall. Sadly 300 zoo personnel were laid off last week.

While hurt is high, hope is too.

Flood Fundraisers are part of almost every event.  Opportunities to donate abound.

Many households are back to normal.

One volunteer confided she thought that Mother Nature did many people a favour, forcing them to dispose of stuff they neither needed or used. Knowing how good it feels to purge one’s stuff, I must agree. But some things are irreplaceable.

(That reminds me it’s time I get my “important stuff” together and in a safer place. I have some photos in cardboard boxes. It’s my own fault if they get ruined!)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has stepped up and done what we wish all politicians would do.

He is down on the frontlines, communicating plans and processes. He routinely praises public servants for their long hours of service.  He rallies volunteers, urges Calgarians to help their neighbours, and cheers us on. All this has certainly helped his political career.

A new T-shirt has emerged: Nenvy: [NEN-vee] the feeling every other city has when comparing mayors. Especially Toronto.” Tee-hee!

Everywhere people marvel at what they’ve witnessed in the wake of the disaster.

Until one experiences this spirit of oneness, it’s impossible to truly understand how powerful acts of kindness are and what they do to the collective psyche.

I am honoured that these are my neighbours. Ya-hoo!

See other Calgary Flood posts by Shelley Goldbeck:

This is my City, Hell or High Water

Calgary Floods Expose Human Character

Calgary Floods Expose Human Character

Underpass in downtown Calgary June 21/2013 Photo owned by www.shelleygoldbeck.com

Underpass in downtown Calgary June 21/2013
Photo owned by www.shelleygoldbeck.com

Calgary residents are dumbfounded as their rivers, the Bow and Elbow run amok through downtown and other low-lying areas. As many as 100 thousand people have been evacuated, including hospital patients and long-term care residences. Many small communities in Southern Alberta are threatened by their waterways, which are usually no more than lazy creeks.

It is interesting to observe human behaviour in the face of crises.

Local police and politicians have begged people to stay home, stay off the roads but those pleas are unheeded. People park along the side of our busiest freeway, Deerfoot Trail, to get out of their cars to take pictures of the roaring Bow River. They imperil themselves and other motorists but they won’t stay away.

“Avoid the river”, the news chants, but the TV coverage is fraught with pictures of residents and news crews teetering on the edges of the floods only to scramble away as the waters rise. Pedestrians take pictures from bridges that are moments from being swept away.

Then there are the people who refuse to leave their homes, despite days of evacuation orders. Those stragglers, through their refusal to obey this common sense order, have to be rescued, endangering their heroic saviours and costing taxpayers money for equipment and personnel. As harsh as it may seem, I think the gene pool would be stronger if these  people suffered the natural consequences of their decisions.

We saw this in the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans. People knew the hurricane was approaching their city. They had days of warnings to leave. They chose to ignore those warnings. And when Katrina hit, they moaned and cried that the government didn’t rescue them on time or provide adequate services to keep their sorry butts alive and comfortable.

Personal responsibility is sorely lacking among the general populace.

Then there’s the habit of humans to build their cities on the flood plains of rivers. Some of the most expensive homes in Calgary are within 50 meters of the Elbow River on a good day. I’ve often questioned the wisdom of their decision to live so close to the river. Sure it’s a beautiful setting when all is well, but this is our third major flood in less than 20 years!

I remember my Grade Six Social teacher, the late Herb Hay, describing the function of flood plains, places for the spill-overs of too-full creeks and rivers. The paradox is that the flood plain usually affords easy access to a river and we are naturally attracted to water.

We often question the wisdom of societies that rebuild on the edge of a volcano after an eruption. Yet the residents of High River (a community south of Calgary) seem to mop up flood waters every spring. The entire town of 13,000 is currently (pardon the pun) evacuated; the river has invaded nearly every building in town.

But will they take a clue from their town’s name?

No, they will clean up, rebuild, and then do it all again in a few years or likely, next year. I’m curious how much provincial money has been spent on flood relief in that community over the years.

There have been reports of stores gouging customers on bottled water, a $5 case sells for $50, but overall, Calgarians have been civilized. In typical western fashion, they have come forward in droves to help their fellow citizens. So many have volunteered they’ve been asked to stay away for now.

Social media is full of offers of beds and meals and places for pets to stay. My daughter suggested it was social media that kept us informed and likely saved lives. Certainly it has been an effective medium for the demonstration of our human capacity for charity. I’m proud of my fellow Calgarians, (except the “flood-chasers”, of course).

City services have been remarkably reliable except in the worst-hit evacuated areas. (If you were supposed to leave, you deserve to be in the dark!) Despite the wet chaos, the crisis has been remarkably smooth and safe. It proves that emergency planning and training is effective.

The rain has subsided for the moment and the rivers appear to have crested in Calgary; they’re not yet receding but the hope is no further damage will occur. We have months of clean-up ahead of us and a new-found kindred-understanding of other flood survivors.

My hope is that all will be safe and that we will all be wiser for this experience.