Reporter Jill Croteau has spent many hours and days reporting on the flood in High River and the town’s ongoing recovery. She looks back at the day that saw much of the town destroyed.
June 20th was a day I never imagined would be so unforgettable.
When I started my shift that day, my news director told me to start heading to High River where the flood threat was imminent.
Once we arrived, the first place we stopped was Riverside Drive. It was immediately obvious we wouldn’t have much time on this suburban street. Every dry patch of grass we came across was overwhelmed by water within seconds. It took only minutes for the entire street to transform into a raging river.
Homeowners were coming out onto their driveways in knee-deep water.
It was developing so fast, I was barely processing what I was seeing.
My mind was racing, wondering where to turn, who to talk to, how to possibly communicate the gravity of this developing situation to our viewers. My heart was racing too, fearing for these folks who were watching the water get deeper and knowing they were trapped unless they wanted to start swimming. Most were seniors.
You could see the desperation and panic on their faces.
A while later, bulldozers barged through, plucking people from front yards with their buckets and getting them to safety. We moved on, the rising water forcing us to relocate to a different area of town.
The next several hours sailed by– images flash like snapshots in my brain. Helicopters rescuing stranded people, landing on a main road; combines trudging through the storm waters loaded with rain-soaked residents; families embracing after being reunited; a mother standing in the rain crying clutching her 25-day-old baby, paralyzed by shock.
There were fleeting moments of such despair and such joy. After a marathon day, I knew this was just the beginning for High River. In the days, weeks and months that followed we stayed connected to the town, travelling there almost daily. My co-workers joked about me starting up a High River bureau. I felt too close to it to let go, wanting to push and advance our coverage.
We learned about the animosity surrounding the evacuation, desperate homeowners furious about being kept out of the town for weeks. We heard from families in the Hamptons who insisted their homes were sacrificed to save others and returned home to underwater neighbourhoods.
I can’t tell you how many tears I witnessed, how many angry voices I heard and how helpless I felt.
But then I remembered this is what I am doing, helping people have a voice, not just listening but ‘hearing’ their stories. It was a privilege to be in the middle of it all.
Since that dark time, we have watched the town as it rebuilds and recovers. Some neighborhoods remain a patchwork of progress. Homes have been demolished, others rebuilt and still others abandoned, their owners walking away, never to return.
The town has worked relentlessly to rebound, physically and mentally. New emergency evacuation notification systems and procedures have been implemented, the historic bridge has been torn down to prevent it from acting as an obstacle in the rising river, and a temporary business park was constructed to allow the residents to still make a living.
Their resilience is admirable, and I look forward to watching the evolution of a town coming back even better than it was before June 20th.