‘It was like nothing I had ever seen before’

It’s one thing to watch a disaster unfold from the comfort of your own home, religiously watching updates to see how things have progressed. But all the while one can maintain a sense of safety and comfort because at the press of a button, it can all go away.

It’s another thing to see it firsthand.

I had only lived in the quaint little town of High River for roughly seven weeks, but the small town charm won me over.

June 20 started like any other; alarm, shower, breakfast, out the door. That day I was on assignment in the town of Vulcan, Alta, but first had to pass through High River to get there.

“It’s frightening seeing something as simple as water take over an entire town.”

That morning, as I tried to make my way through town, blockades had already been put in place over the Centre Street Bridge due to high water levels in the Highwood River.

This was only a small inconvenience, so I turned around at the request of police officers, but as I was doing so, the first of the flooding caught my eye.

Down a side street into the community of Wallaceville, the riverbanks had over flown into the community, but water levels were barely covering sidewalks.

I thought to myself, “Well, High River has gotten its first flood, I hope those basements aren’t too damaged.”

Little did I know that what I had passed off so easily that morning, would turn into the disaster we are now all too familiar with.

Once I had completed my assignment in Vulcan, I went back to their office to file my story.

The news reached me as soon as I walked through the door. The receptionist informed me in a panic that High River was flooding, and fast.

As I took to the (unreliable) Internet at the Vulcan office, scouring every news outlet I could find, it became increasingly more clear that what was waiting for me at home was far from anything I had ever expected.

The severity of the situation mounted and my concern grew with every news post that came through, but the biggest sink my heart underwent that day was at one p.m. when the call was made for all residents to be evacuated immediately.

This was the call. I had to get back to the town I had grown to call home. On one hand it was simply to satisfy my curiosity of what the town looked like, and on the other to try and collect a few things from my basement apartment in the north end of town.

At first impression, there was a swirl of dark, ominous clouds that engulfed the area, but nothing appeared to be in the state of chaos I had worked up in my mind.

As I weaved my way through town by way of small side streets, area residents were all heading in the same direction towards the evacuation centre or simply to higher ground. I felt defiant going in the opposite direction as them, and my undying curiosity to see the town kept my growing worry at bay.

“I can’t help but think that once the town regains its livelihood that the flood of 2013 will remain in the back of the minds of all residents.”

Photo by Kassidy ChristiansenAs I neared the middle of town and drove up Veterans Way, which leads to one of the highest points in town, a fire truck was parked horizontally across the road hampering everyone’s view of the other side of the hill.

A look around the large truck revealed a sight I had never seen in my life. The water was almost at the top of the hill. All that was visible down below was a lake of rushing water and the top of a pick up truck.

It’s frightening seeing something as simple as water take over an entire town. What I saw that cloudy, grey afternoon – brown, thick, muddy water that reached at least five or six feet high – would humble any human and make them realize that some forces are beyond our control.

Navigating through town proved to be difficult, there were dead ends at every turn and bubbling water came up through manhole covers or rapid currents flowed across three or four roads.

Thankfully I was able to reach my home, and a small ray of hope was reinstilled in me once I came to my house and saw that it was still dry. After packing a few items to last me a couple of days – how naïve of me, I thought I would be back in town after three or four days – I took one final look at my home, all the while realizing that this may be the last time I see it dry.

The entire day felt like scenes from a movie; the best way to describe everything is simple — it was surreal.

Finally finding myself safe and sound in my parents’ home after driving to north Calgary, slightly distraught by the entire situation, I was relieved to be in a safe, dry place.

Luckily a couple days later I had the privilege of seeing the town due to media accreditation. A couple tours had been conducted to give us a taste of what the town looked like, and it too was nothing like I had ever seen before.

The devastation the water left behind is most of the time incomprehensible. Cars were shoved up against roadway signs, entire houses had been pushed over, and many things were so caked into a thick layer of mud and silt that it’s hard to believe they would ever become unstuck.

The town had turned into a slew hole of gunk and debris.

I can’t help but think that once the town regains its livelihood that the flood of 2013 will remain in the back of the minds of all residents.

Images will forever be tattooed on the brains of those who have either lost their homes, seen copious amounts of water rushing towards them, or even finding a displaced object years later will stay with them for the long haul.

I myself can safely say that it will stick with me. An event of this magnitude can never be forgotten, but people will move on. I’m just waiting for the day that someone comes up to me and asks,

“Do you remember the flood of 2013?”

My answer will be simple, “It was like nothing I had ever seen before.”

kchristiansen@cjournal.ca