A year ago, Calgarian Darcy Verhun could never have imagined the catastrophe that threw his and family’s lives into chaos.
On June 20th, 2013, Verhun, his wife and two daughters, were among the first to be evacuated as the roaring Elbow River was about to swamp their neighbourhood of Rideau Park.
“I wasn’t worried when we were evacuated. We had about a half hour to get out of the house. I thought there might be some sewer backup so I ran downstairs and lifted the things I could quickly lift and put them up high.”
Verhun then left on a trip to Edmonton, confident he could deal with the fallout when he returned a couple of days later.
“I got up early the next morning, turned on the news to see what had happened and immediately drove back.”
Verhun approached his house in hip waders as alarms were going off and helicopters flew overhead.
“When I opened the front door I tried to catch the shoes; everything came flowing out. They were going by, so I was trying to catch them, all this stuff. It was surreal.”
Nothing could prepare him for what awaited him inside.
He made his way through four feet of water – his mission – to rescue the family cats.
“I waded outside with the cats and the kids were cheering.”
As traumatic as that day was, Verhun says the weeks and months that followed were a rollercoaster, emotionally and financially. The cleanup took weeks, the repairs, months.
Verhun estimates the family’s financial losses at over half a million dollars. The insurance company covered 20% of it – even though overland flooding isn’t normally covered. The repairs were extensive: windows, doors and floors replaced, the kitchen rebuilt, the installation of a new furnace, ducting and electrical wiring - the list goes on.
Verhun, who has spent many years helping others as a founding director of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, is grateful for all the people who have helped him. He says he doesn’t know he could have faced it without the support of friends, neighbours and strangers.
“Marcus Koenig waded in wearing jeans to help us on Saturday and was still helping in December; another neighbour showed up with a sewage pump; a team from Conroy Ross (Verhun’s employer) organized three shifts to provide cleanup help and food until we could dry out the house; even an Olympian, Jan Hudak, showed up to help. He signed my daughter’s ski helmet with ‘never give up.’”
“We were blessed through the support. As unbelievable as the flood was, the support was 100 times more unbelievable.”
Many complete strangers also showed up to help the family, including five men with crowbars who spent a day in the basement pulling nails and a man who showed up with a toolbox and spent six hours removing floor tiles.
“The people who all helped truly were a gift – and really tell what Calgary is all about.”
With the flood anniversary approaching, it’s clear Verhun is nervous about the potential for it happening all over again; there’s a lot at stake. He says the bigger stake though, is ensuring the provincial government follows through with upstream mitigation projects so no Calgarian ever has to through a major flood again.