CALGARY – After months of cleanup, red tape and financial hardship, Jamie Lea and Owen Tipton are back in their home in High River. But it’s no longer the welcoming sanctuary it once was.
“It’s nice to be back, but if I could have made the same home somewhere else, I would have,” says Lea. “I’m nervous, I have anxiety and I am thinking what the outcome will be if it does happen again.”
‘It’ is the June flood that left their basement covered in sludge, debris and mould, leaving damage so severe the home was categorized as ‘red’, meaning it was unlivable.
At the time, Lea told Global News that she and Tipton, along with their two children, fled without knowing if they would ever be back.
“It bothers me knowing it will never be the same and if we’re able to put our home back together, then what? I’m devastated. I want someone to pinch me so I can wake up.”
A year later, their basement has been cleaned and repaired. But some precious items are lost forever.
“I had a lot of my childhood things in that basement. It took a piece of me, for sure,” recalls Lea. “It’s not the couch or TV—it’s those things you had you’re never going to get back. I want to blame someone. Mother Nature, thank you very much.”
Tipton admits the couple considered walking away from their home and mortgage.
“It wasn’t sellable. You are left with two choices: bankruptcy or fix it. We were stuck.”
Tipton says that decision led to long and frustrating months of dealing with government bureaucracy.
“When I had to deal with government channels I was like, my God, what kind of country am I living in that you can’t help one small town? What does that say about us? There was a point we said ‘we are going to handle this on our own’ and that’s why we’re here.
“We’re home. We wouldn’t be home if we had to rely on the Alberta government or Tervita - they weren’t set up to do it.”
READ MORE: Flood reflections: Reporter Jill Croteau returns to High River
And like so many other flood victims, he says they couldn’t have got through it alone.
“The best way to describe it is as a learning experience. I learned I do have a good network of friends of family.”
And the couple has learned another lesson, this one about control.
“I try not to worry about things I can’t control. I don’t have control of how the river looks,” Tipton says.
“Another flood would absolutely devastate this town and the people in it.”