This is a post about the Alberta flood that I wrote for the internal blog at my day job. It went over well so I thought I’d share it here for my friends and family and dear blog readers.
Calgary Flood 2013 – From an Insider Perspective
Imagine having 30 minutes to evacuate your home. What would you take? Your pets? Your valuables? Family photos? What if you only had 10 minutes?
These questions became very real for almost 100,000 people in Alberta last week.
Flood waters poured into the Bow and Elbow rivers in Calgary on Thursday, June 20th, causing record-high levels of water. Not only was there a whole lot of water, the water was moving at an alarming speed. Within hours neighbourhoods were covered in water, cars were submerged and bridges were in danger of being torn out.
Here’s a picture I took from a high ridge on the second day of the flood. This police car was abandoned after they stopped to evacuate people. This gives you an idea of just how fast the flood waters came in.
My family was one of the families affected by the evacuation order, but by a true stroke of luck, our home was undamaged. We were not allowed to return to our home for almost 5 days, but when we made it back in we found a dry basement and a cool refrigerator.
Some of our neighbours and friends have not been so lucky. One friend came home to find two feet of water on the first floor of their home (their basement was filled to the brim). Another friend swam through neck-deep water in his basement to rescue his expensive bicycles. Another lost all of her clothing when it was covered in muck and sewage. Some friends are not yet back in their homes as they wait to hear when their power can be turned back on and if it’s safe to go back.
It hasn’t been all bad news though! The flood has brought Albertans together; the outpouring of support has been amazing to witness.
Here are a few insider details on what’s happened in Calgary:
Nenshi for King of the World:
Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has become a celebrity. Well liked before the flood, Nenshi’s calm, understanding and organized reaction to the flood has forever solidified him in Calgarian’s hearts. After staying awake and dealing with media for 40+ hours during the first few days of the flood, the hash tag #Nap4Nenshi began trending on Twitter as people begged him to get some sleep. Another person adjusted this bus station ad to say ‘thanks.’ An artist has begun selling ‘Scuba Nenshi‘ t-shirts to raise money for the Red Cross.
Twitter Takes Over
I found out I needed to evacuate on Twitter when someone in my neighbourhood tweeted about the notice. This bought me precious time to pack (and make the packing list below).
Calgarians have been tweeting up a storm, sending updates to neighbours about power and water conditions, and now, letting people know where they can do to help.
More Volunteers Than the City Can Handle
People have been volunteering to help out those affected by the flood in droves. One friend told me that the Bowness area, heavily hit by flooding, was packed with so many volunteers he could barely make it down the street yesterday. People are walking up to strangers’ houses and offering to help, or dropping off food, water and supplies. People with pick-up trucks are driving around neighbourhoods offering to take flood-damaged household items to the dump. When Nenshi asked for volunteers to gather at a stadium on Monday, over 2,500 people showed up — they were hoping for 600.
Businesses Standing Out (or Being Shunned)
Many businesses are going out of their way to help people affected by the flood. Calgary food trucks are responding to tweets and requests for food for volunteers and are giving out free food all over the city. Construction companies are offering to drop off generators and pumps to anyone in need. Restaurants are offering free food to people who have been displaced or emergency services workers. The few companies that have not been supportive (e.g. companies that jacked up the price of water or ice) have been shamed on social media and may face criminal charges.
Social Media Excellence from Public Services
The Calgary Police department has been an invaluable resource for Calgarians during the flood, and their social media outreach has been highly commended. Early on in the flood their account was frozen by Twitter for sending out too many tweets. After citizens reported this to Twitter Canada, their account was unlocked. In the meantime, a fast-acting Constable took over for the police, keeping everyone in the loop. Later, they weren’t afraid to use humour to gently scold someone who reported ‘vagrants’ in their neighbourhood:
I expect we’ll see many articles on what can be learned from the CPS in relation to managing social media in a crisis in the near future!
Calgary Transit, and of course the mayor, have also been complimented on their social presence throughout the flood.
There were two ‘feel-good’ flood stories that went viral during the crisis. One involves a cat and one involves a photogenic fire fighter. In case you missed them:
Mud, Mud and More Mud: It’s Only the Beginning
Now that most of the flooding has stopped, the real work for Calgarians and other Albertans affected by the flooding is only beginning. At the time of writing, Calgary is still in a declared state of emergency as people work to clean up their homes. As the water recedes we are left with mud and sewage everywhere. Our downtown core is still closed, schools are closed, buses and trains are not running normally, and many people are off work to help clean up. There’s a sombre cloud over the whole city as people try to comprehend the devastation.
Estimates say that it could take up to 10 years and cost between $3 and $5 billion dollars to repair the damage the flood has caused. If you’re interested in seeing some of the photos of the damage, check out this CBC article, or this video.
If you’d like to help the families affected by the flood, you can donate to the Red Cross here.
On a personal note, I’d like to say thank you to all of the friends and family who reached out to make sure we were okay during the flooding. A HUGE thank you to our friends Andrea and Bully who housed and fed us, and our 3 cats, during the evacuation. Their patience, kindness and mad cooking skills made this whole experience much easier.