On Thursday, Southern Alberta including Calgary was declared to be in a state of emergency. Between heavy rains and the spring thaw, the major rivers running through the province have swelled causing flooding over four feet and in some areas up to 12. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes, some to the houses of family and friends, others to hotels, and the rest to emergency facilities in churches, sporting facilities, and community centers. Power was shut down and the military was called in to give support. The mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was awake for 43 hours straight working side by side with city employees, keeping citizens up to date through Twitter and the city blog, fielding questions, and dispersing important information. The Twitter feed with hashtag #yycflood shows people spreading information, offering aid, reporting issues to authorities, and documenting the destruction through pictures and videos.
Residents watched devastated as their houses were destroyed (in Canada there isn’t insurance coverage for overland flooding), graduation ceremonies and weddings were cancelled, and historical landmarks were drowned in river water. Especially upsetting to many Calgary natives were the pictures of Stampede Park where the aptly named Calgary Stampede has been held for 103 years starting the first Friday in July. If the flooding subsides and if the water can be removed, the stampede will still only have two weeks to prepare for "the greatest outdoor show on earth," which normally brings in over a million people a day.
Most encouraging however is knowing that during this natural disaster, many of the worst sides of society never showed themselves. There have been no reports of looting, no stealing or fights breaking out at supermarkets. Instead there have been too many donations of food, clothing, and bedding for the homeless. There have been strangers using their trucks to ferry families, animals being rescued, and even public shaming for any companies trying to profit from the disaster.
Considering the news of the flood hasn’t been widely reported outside of Canada, most of my friends outside of the country haven’t even heard about the plight of Southern Albertans. But that’s okay. Canadians are used to taking care of themselves and even though they are normally very willing to donate relief to other disasters, there have been many comments that are shockingly negative — as if Calgary, Fort McMurray, or other locations deserve natural disasters because of our policies encouraging oil and gas development.
Regardless, on the other side of this flood Alberta will persevere and keep going. The stampede might be a bit smaller, but people will still flock to the grounds. The Calgary Flames will either have a great excuse for not making it to the Stanley Cup next year, or a fantastic comeback story if they do. And there will be lots of documentation that shows how humane and compassionate Albertans and visitors were during this moment in time.
If you'd like to donate to the Red Cross, please visit this website.