I've been writing the last couple of days about the disastrous flooding that has happened in and near the city of the Calgary, Alberta.
What appears to have started the mess is a warm air front heading north into the Canadian Rocky Mountains, colliding with colder mountain air. A huge dump of rain resulted, 7 inches or more in a 30-hour period. While the city did receive a massive rain dump, the main damage was caused by unprecedented flooding of the Elbow and Bow rivers, both of which flow toward Calgary, and converge within the city limits before heading further east.
The rain falling in the mountains accelerated the spring thaw, and huge amounts of water (much of it melted snow) rushed down the mountains, into the creeks, streams, and rivers that run from the mountains, into the foothills, and then west into the heart of southern Alberta.
Below, I will summarize where we're at right now. I am taking information from a number of sources. Anyone who wants further reading, and tons of pictures, can find it at the Calgary Herald's website, among a growing list of sites.
More below the Kosian Kroissant.
As I write this, approaching 7:30PM Saturday here in the Mountain time zone, water/snow runoff from the mountains is still gushing. Several towns in the water's path have been extremely heavily hit. Canmore, about an hour's drive west of Calgary, is reeling from the disaster. High River, a community about 40 miles to the south of Calgary, is widely known as the place where homes were ripped from their foundations and carried down "stream". Early on, reports were that 4 bodies were seen floating in the waters near High River. At this point, there are 3 confirmed fatalities, and the 4th person is considered missing.
Within Calgary itself, the water levels have receded somewhat, but that process is still very slow. The Bow river, the larger of the two that run through the city, is continuing to be fed more water from the west. Meanwhile, as water leaves Calgary, it travels further east. The city of Medicine Hat, further downstream but still in Alberta, is next on the hit list. Peak water levels there are expected to hit sometime on Monday. Up to 10,000 residents have already been evacuated from Medicine Hat, and the worst for them is yet to come.
The entire core of downtown Calgary is now closed to all but urgent local traffic. Many underground garages have been flooded completely. Many first floor levels are also still under water. The mayor has said that the core closing is expected to last until mid-week, at the earliest. Recovery is to be measured in weeks and months, not days. There is a dangerous mixture of water and electricity that has to be dealt with, that is once the water actually receeds. And the water is not just water. It is an ugly brown mixture.
City-wide transit is impaired. The "C-Train", a commuter rail service, connects various quadrants of the city, and has been largely paralyzed. Most of the routes connect through the downtown core. Although the C-Train is largely surface rail, one of the major lines goes down into a tunnel approaching downtown before re-surfacing; that tunnel is completely flooded.
Homes, restaurants, offices, businesses of all sorts have been heavily damaged and in some cases ruined.
Downtown is the center of the oil & gas business, as well as tons of other commerce conducted here. Office towers sit empty with no power, and no prospect of having power for days or longer, their lower levels a mess of brown water and debris.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi has asked Calgary residents to reduce tap water use. The water supply is safe to drink, but the water processing plants have been strained to their limits and output is reduced. This is due to the huge amount of silt and debris entering the water system, which taxes the capacity of the entire system to output clean water. City council has implemented emergency restrictions on outdoor use of fresh water (gardening, washing cars, etc.), and asked residents to reduce clothes washing, dishwashers, and so on.
The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo and fair known internationally, is scheduled to begin in less than two weeks. It takes place at the Stampede/exhibition grounds, which was badly flooded, and remains partly flooded to this moment. There are many buildings and venues on site, including a grandstand, and the Saddledome, a 17,000 seat arena.
Yesterday, we began reading reports that the Saddledome had been flooded. First reports were that water inside had risen to the 10th row of seating, then the 14th. The playing surface, and some of the seating, are actually below outside ground level, as the entire structure was designed and built that way (and is probably quite common in arenas around the world).
Today, Ken King, president of the Calgary Flames, and NHL hockey team, said of the state of Saddledome "It's a total loss". It's not entirely clear what he meant by those words, as he also went on to say, "We're going to be ready for the opening of the season", which is three months away.
To be sure, there is major water damage inside the arena. The players' dressing rooms were totally flooded, and a control room for the Jumbotron, with millions of dollars worth of electronic equipment, is completely ruined.
One might question whether 3 months is enough time to repair for hockey; but upcoming events related to the Stampede are a different matter. KISS is among the headline acts scheduled to play in that arena, about 2 weeks from now; perhaps Gene Simmons can bring along hip waders.
Pictures from inside the dome, as it exists now, are also on the Calgary Herald's website, in this story.
All in all, there's just so much bad news for so many people around here. I'm one of the lucky ones. My neighbourhood is high and dry, and we have had no local flooding.
The Canadian Red Cross is accepting donations, and so far has raised a couple of million dollars in cash.
The last major flood here, in 2005, resulted in about $400 million damage. The water flow this time around is said to be about 3 times worse than 2005. It's too early to tally up the damage, but $400 million sounds like the proverbial drop in the bucket.