HIGH RIVER, Alta. – Some residents of flood-ravaged High River, Alberta, will be allowed to return to their homes on Saturday while others could be waiting at least another month, officials announced Friday.
About 5,000 residents of the northwest part of town will be allowed to go back starting at noon, but Shane Schreiber of Alberta Emergency Management cautioned that not all of the 1,000 homes in the neighbourhood would be livable because of flood damage, and the phased re-entry of evacuees could take as long as five weeks for people from the most heavily devastated part of the town.
Rick Fraser, the associate minister of regional recovery and reconstruction for High River said that some residents of High River received the green light to return to their homes Saturday while others will be able to tour the community by bus.
“Our priority is to enable the return of residents to their homes in a safe and orderly fashion as quickly as possible, with a view to supporting further recovery and the long-term restoration of High River,” said Fraser.
Bus tours were to start Friday night for all residents so they could at least get an idea of the damage.
Also on Friday, the Alberta government declared a provincial state of emergency in High River and assumed responsibility for flood recovery and rebuilding operations, at the request of the town’s mayor.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said there has been more significant infrastructure damage in the town than ever suffered anywhere else in the province in any kind of disaster.
Griffiths said power was starting to be restored, engineers were identifying which roads were safe and health and home inspectors were on the job.
Mayor Emile Blokland said the floods have been overwhelming and that it’s best if the province co-ordinates getting the community’s 13,000 people back into their homes.
“It’s become clear that the size and scope of this disaster is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before in Alberta,” Blokland said at the same update in High River.
Shreiber said it would be three to five days before the next group of homeowners would be allowed in, five to seven days for the group after that and three to five weeks for people from the hardest hit section.
Town officials have posted a flood inundation map on their Facebook page, which indicates areas where high water levels remain.
Frustration has been mounting for those who have been out of their homes for a week since the flood.
Some owners have said they could see their homes from a distance and they looked fine, but Schreiber said homes that look to be dry on one particular sliver of land aren’t necessarily safe.
“One of the problems is the infrastructure that supports all those homes is still all under water, so it’s going to be dangerous. The homes may be above water, but all the power, sewer – all that stuff – is still under water.”
The RCMP has stepped up its presence around the perimeter of the community, posting officers at various checkpoints and on roving patrol throughout the evacuated areas.
Mounties say three people were arrested this week trying to get into the town but were caught by officers on patrol.
WATCH: Anger boiling over in High River (June 26)
The RCMP says it will discuss with the Crown whether charges should be laid.
There are indications that some residents are starting to organize.
Maureen Hefferton says hundreds are planning to meet today at Coal Trail with the aim of pushing for more information than officials have so far provided.
She said many of their homes suffered only minimal damage, but they’re concerned that the longer their homes sit with water in them, the worse the final bill will be.