CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The two rivers that converge on the western Canadian city of Calgary were receding Saturday after floods devastated much of southern Alberta province, causing at least three deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate.
The flooding forced authorities to evacuate Calgary’s entire downtown and hit some of the city’s iconic structures hard. The Saddledome, home to the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, was flooded up to the 10th row, leaving the dressing rooms submerged.
Flames’ president and CEO Ken King said Saturday that the Saddledome is a “real mess,” with water still up to row 8 of the lower bowl. He said the flooding had caused a total loss on the event level with all mechanical equipment submerged under 15 feet (4.5 meters) of water.
“If you were a hockey player walking out of the tunnel to the ice, you’d be underwater yourself,” he said during a news conference.
Water lapped at the roof of the chuckwagon barns at the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to start in two weeks. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the city will do everything it can to make sure that the world-renowned party goes ahead.
Bruce Burrell, director of the city’s emergency management agency, said Saturday they are seeing improvements in the rivers. Dan Limacher, director of water services for the city, said the Elbow river is expected to recede by about 60 percent over the next two days, while the larger Bow river will recede by about 25 percent.
The improving conditions Saturday morning prompted Calgary’s mayor to tweet: “It’s morning in Calgary! Sunny, water levels are down, and our spirit remains strong. We’re not out of this, but maybe have turned corner.”
However, Nenshi said later Saturday that while the city may have turned a corner, there is still a state of emergency in effect.
“Flows on Elbow and Bow (rivers) are dropping slowly. We do believe the peak has passed on the Elbow. However, water levels are still four times higher than 2005 flood levels,” he said during a press conference.
Overflowing rivers on Thursday and Friday washed out roads and bridges, soaked homes and turned streets into dirt-brown waterways around southern Alberta.
High River, southwest of Calgary, was one of the hardest-hit areas and remained under a mandatory evacuation order. Police said they have recovered three bodies in the town.
It is estimated that half the people in the town of 13,000 experienced flooding in their homes. Police cut off access to most of the town and helicopters circled overhead. Abandoned cars lay submerged in water, while backhoes worked in vain to push water back from houses.
Police asked residents who were forced to leave the High River area to register at an evacuation shelter. By Saturday morning, 485 evacuees had registered at the shelter in Nanton, south of Calgary, and 278 people were on the inquiry list.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Saturday that during rescue and evacuation efforts on Friday in the High River area, approximately 800 people were evacuated by helicopter along with 100-200 people rescued by various water craft.
Ed Mailhot, a volunteer in High River, was working to build a database of registered evacuees and those who are looking for them. Cellphone service was not restored until late Friday.
“There are a lot of loved ones out there that people can’t find, or they don’t know where they are,” he said. “It’s still chaos.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford has warned that communities downstream of Calgary have not yet felt the full force of the floodwaters. Medicine Hat, downstream from Calgary, was under a mandatory evacuation order affecting 10,000 residents.
As the sun rose in Calgary on Saturday morning it wasn’t raining. Burrell said some of the 75,000 flood evacuees from more than 24 neighborhoods will be allowed back into their homes. He said the goal is to allow people from portions of six communities back into their homes on Saturday. Residents of a neighborhood in one of those communities — the high ground portion of Discovery Ridge —have already been allowed back.
About 1,500 people in Calgary went to emergency shelters during the flooding, while the rest of those evacuated found shelter with family or friends, Nenshi said. Schools and courts were closed Friday. Transit service in the city’s core was shut down.
Dale McMaster, executive vice president of ENMAX, Calgary’s power company, said Saturday that at least 30,000 customers remain without power.
Calgary’s mayor said the downtown area remained off limits and employers will have to make arrangements to have staff work remotely until at least the middle of the week.
“It is extremely unlikely that people will be able to return to those buildings before the middle of next week,” Nenshi said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Calgary resident, said he never imagined there would be a flood of this magnitude in this part of Canada.
The Conservative Party said Saturday that it has postponed its federal policy convention which was scheduled to begin Thursday at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary because of the floods.
“There are neighborhoods under water, so there is a lot of work we have to do to rebuild,” said Michelle Rempel, a member of Parliament for Calgary Center. “Postponing the convention is the right thing to do for the people of Calgary.”
Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, is the center of Canada’s oil industry.
About 350,000 people work in downtown Calgary on a typical day. However, officials said very few people had to be moved out, since many heeded warnings and did not go to work Friday.
A spokesman for Canada’s defense minister said 1,300 soldiers from a base in Edmonton were being deployed to the flood zone.
The Mounties added that approximately 200 additional Royal Canadian Mounted Police personnel were deployed Saturday from other parts of Alberta to assist with evacuation, rescue, traffic safety and security operations,
Calgary was not alone in its weather-related woes.
Efforts were under way Saturday to move more than 2,000 people from their homes in a flood-prone part of northeastern Saskatchewan because of rising water levels.
Saskatchewan’s deputy emergency management commissioner Colin King said the water is going to rise to an unprecedented level in the Cumberland House area.
The communities are downstream of where the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers meet and those rivers are swollen as floodwaters from Alberta head east.
The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency said inflows on the South Saskatchewan River into Lake Diefenbaker are expected to be the highest ever recorded.
The South Saskatchewan River is expected to rise six feet (two meters).
Associated Press writers Rob Gillies and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto and Jeremy Hainsworth in Vancouver, British Columbia, contributed to this report.