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‘We don’t have a flood, we have a disaster,’ says mayor as tensions rise in High River, Alberta

HIGH RIVER, Alta. – Alberta has a message for those in the town of High River who have been hit hardest by the flooding: people who refuse to obey a mandatory evacuation order for the town are making a bad situation worse.

As many as 300 people who didn’t leave when ordered to do so last week were adding to the stress of trying to get the town of 13,000 back on its feet. They were discovered as RCMP and soldiers did a door-to-door search of 3,337 homes.

LOCAL COVERAGE: Mayor of High River appeals for remaining residents to leave their homes

Mayor Emile Blokland says his town has experience a full-fledged disaster and it’s not safe to open up the community, and likened the situation to 2011 wildfires in Slave Lake, Alberta where hundreds of homes were destroyed.

WATCH: High River remains a concern as Alberta emergency officials update flood situation (June 25)

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Just over three hundred people were found still in their homes, and RCMP say two women had to be rescued – one by boat, and another by a light armoured vehicle.

Specialized dive teams from Saskatchewan, along with a water rescue team from B.C., as well as two RCMP flood specialists from Manitoba have been brought in to help.

“The situation within the community is not safe and we encourage those citizens to comply with the order. They are now starting to contribute to the problem,” said Dave Galea of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

RELATED: High River resident arrested for allegedly wielding knife in front of police

He said first responders were faced with having to help those who stayed behind instead of checking homes and buildings to see if they are safe to occupy.

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WATCH: Jill Croteau reports from High River on Monday evening

“They are running out of supplies. They have been isolated in the town for a number of days now, so water to drink, food supplies (are an issue),” said Galea. “If first responders that are present in the community have to resupply them, then that takes them away from the focus of making things right.

MORE: Ottawa’s disaster relief fund – what’s covered and what’s not

“It is also a point of friction between the residents who have evacuated and those who are staying in their homes.”

WATCH: Victim from High River remembered. Nancy Hixt reports.

Provincial officials said 80 per cent of the town remained without services and the waste-water treatment plant wasn’t working — two reasons police continue to keep people out.

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Galea acknowledged people who are getting angry because they haven’t been allowed to go back to even see their homes since the order went out last Thursday as the Highwood River burst its banks.

MORE: Scientist on Alberta floods: ‘We should have seen this coming months ago’ 

“There is great frustration that is frankly understandable. People have been out of their homes for awhile. But the water has not receded to the point where (crews) can safely inspect all of the homes.

“It is going to take a number of days to be able to determine what is safe to re-enter and what is not safe.”

Police said two women in High River had to be rescued. One was picked up by boat and the other by a Canadian Forces light armoured vehicle. Both women, police said, had indicated their situations were becoming “quite desperate” and appeared to be very distraught.

Sympathy fading

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Monday he has little sympathy for those who remained behind.

“I’m not and the community will not direct … time, energy and resources for those who refuse to leave,” said a visibly angry Griffiths. “If they care about their community and the people in it, they need to leave.”

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High River’s mayor was also standing firm.

“Everyone has a reason why they want to be back in the community, but the logistics of making that happen are enormous, because we can’t let people into the community unescorted,” said Emile Blokland.

But Provincial Opposition leader, Danielle Smith, who lives in High River, said it’s time to let people back, primarily to areas that weren’t seriously damaged and are safe.

“Get people back into the town and do it today or in the next couple of days,” Smith told The Canadian Press.

Defying evacuation orders

She said much of the town was untouched by the flood. She was actually in High River for four days after the flood helping rescue pets. She worked through the emergency operations centre under a pass that let her come and go from the community.

She said she understands the frustration of the displaced population.

“People are at their wits end and I can understand why. We have medical doctors now saying we have to start getting into those homes so they can be cleaned up otherwise we have a bigger problem,” she said.

“You let that still water stay there with three days of heat cooking it, you’re going to end up seeing mold and mildew going up the walls.”

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Raw video: High River flooding

With files from Tamara Elliott and Patricia Kozicka 

Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version that used files from The Canadian Press that erroneously reported Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith had said she had defied an evacuation order in High River. The Wildrose says Smith was working through the emergency operations centre on a pass that let her come and go from the community and has not been staying at her house there. 

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