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High River residents to return home on Saturday, as province takes over recovery efforts

CALGARY and TORONTO – Some High River evacuees will be able to return to High River on Saturday, the Alberta government announced on Friday.

Residents of the northwest part of town will be allowed to go back starting at noon.

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.

The floods last week forced 13,000 residents from High River out of their homes.

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Fraser announced a three-phase re-entry plan for residents of the flood-ravaged town. 

  • Phase One – The town is made safe
  • Phase Two – Staged re-entry of residents
  • Phase Three – Termination of the state of emergency

The first phase is already underway, and includes ensuring that the water system, sewage collection and essential services are functional. Perimeter fencing will be put in place for high-risk properties, roadways will be cleared, homes are being inspected and health services need to be operational.

Fraser said work on phase one is “well underway” and that a safety assessment will be conducted Friday afternoon. Following the assessment, residents will be allowed to tour areas of the town by bus.

People who live in the following areas will be allowed home, starting at noon on Saturday:

  • Lineham Acres
  • Eagleview Estates
  • Polo Park
  • Highwood Village
  • Vista Mirage
  • High Park
  • High Country

Residents are asked to start at the High River Welcome Centre at the High River Agricultural Society rodeo grounds.

All homes in the area have been colour coded as follows:

  • Green: habitable
  • Yellow: minor impact, requires clean up, possible repairs, remains habitable
  • Orange: damaged, requires extensive repairs or renovations, not immediately habitable
  • Red: severely damaged, uninhabitable

Residents in other parts of the town will be allowed home when those areas are declared safe.

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The province  said that construction has begun on temporary housing solutions for those residents whose homes require significant repair or renovation, and those whose homes are uninhabitable.

The Alberta government on Friday also declared a provincial state of emergency in High River and said they would assume responsibility for flood recovery and rebuilding.

Mayor Emile Blokland said that given the scope of the disaster, he asked the province to assume responsibility for emergency operations, programs and services.

“The disaster in High River has been overwhelming,” said Alberta Emergency Management Agency Minister of Municipal Affairs, Doug Griffiths. “That’s why we are taking this unique and unprecedented step.”

Griffiths acknowledged that Blokland has done “outstanding work dealing with this situation,” but that the tasks ahead require significant resources and expertise.

“The province is ready to step in and provide that and build on that as necessary,” he said in a statement.

In a news conference Friday, Premier Alison Redford said the emphasis has been on how long it will take for buildings, roads and homes to be rebuilt — but the psychological and the physical cost of the flooding on residents shouldn’t be forgotten.

The province is consolidating mental health resources under a new chief mental health officer in order to help victims with their emotional and psychological needs.

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Watch: Officials from the town of High River update the situation on re-entry by residents in a press conference this afternoon.

– with files from The Canadian Press