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‘A very surreal kind of moment’: Fort McMurray woman shares video of flooding in childhood home

Hannah Walowski, 18, is a Fort McMurray resident dealing with flooding. Her backyard is pictured on Monday, April 27, 2020. Courtesy: Hannah Walowski

Hannah Walowski watched in disbelief as water seeped into the basement of her childhood home in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Monday.

“That’s when panic kind of started ensuing in all of us,” she told Global News on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray resident flees flood by boat: ‘It brought back all those wildfire memories’

Her family started packing up and salvaging what they could as the threat of water escalated. Flooding was caused by ice jams and spring runoff from the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers, according to the Alberta government.

“The floor in my room was cracking and building up because the water was coming under the flooring and pushing it up,” Walowski said. “That was kind of sad to see my room that I grew up in get destroyed… After that, water just kept rushing in. It was up to our knees.”

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That’s when she recorded a TikTok video, which had nearly 40,000 views by Tuesday night. Initially, Walowski felt uneasy about posting it but said the comments have been supportive.

“They’re like, ‘You guys can’t catch a break.’ A lot of people don’t even know that this is going on,” Walowski said.

READ MORE: Brian Jean says Fort McMurray will bounce back after losing rebuilt home to flood: ‘All this stuff can be replaced’

The most striking visual was seeing the treehouse her dad built submerged.

“Having all the memories and stuff underwater, it’s like, well, what now?”

@hannahwalowski

Fort McMurray flood 2020. Have to leave the only place we were quarantined :( #fyp #coronavirus #flood #natureathome #fypchallenge

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When her parents phoned on Monday at around 5 p.m., they told her the water was up to the top of the basement stairs.

“Even in the flood that happened in 1997, my parents were in that house and it flooded — the water only came up to like maybe the fifth stair in their basement,” Walowski said.

“[Now,] they ended up leaving. Last that they saw of it was the whole basement was underwater and it was seeping into the porch. The streets were flooded at this point.”
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“The floor in my room was cracking and building up because the water was coming under the flooring and pushing it up,” Hannah Walowski said, describing Monday’s flooding. Courtesy: Hannah Walowski

Her parents have lived in the same house for more than 25 years; the building survived the 2016 fire with smoke damage.

READ MORE: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tours flooded Fort McMurray, offers support

Walowski’s initial reaction to the flood was “not again,” citing flashbacks of that last big natural disaster.

“The anxiousness and stuff started coming in about are we going to get evacuated again?” she said.

“I feel like this is just another rock thrown in my face.”

Things damaged in the flood included sentimental items belonging to her late sister.

“That was one that kind of hit home. That’s stuff you can’t really replace,” Walowski said.

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READ MORE: Evacuation orders issued as rising rivers threaten Fort McMurray

The 18-year-old returned home from Kelowna, B.C., at the end of March to stay with her parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now with the flood, Walowski and her cat are staying at a friend’s place in Timberlea — an area that is not under a mandatory evacuation order.

The pandemic adds another layer of stress and uncertainty, she said.

“I just wanted to go home; that’s where I feel safe… and it was just hard not being able to go to the place where you just feel most comfortable.”

Anxiety is the main emotion bubbling up.

“[It’s] OK to break down and talk about it with family and friends. It’s OK to be upset. It’s OK to be mad at the world and stuff like that and how the timeline of things ended up panning out,” Walowski said.
A shot of the treehouse in Hannah Walowskis backyard before the water rose. Courtesy: Hannah Walowski

For the most recent updates on both voluntary and mandatory evacuations in the Fort McMurray area, please visit the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s website.

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