Uncertainty has finally come to an end for one Alberta family

Barbara Shwytky remembers the day her house flooded as being oddly sunny, hinting at nothing out of the ordinary to happen on a lovely June day. The radio was tuned in to the news all day at the dental hygienist office where she worked.

“I ended up going home an hour early and on the way home police cars and speedboats were passing me and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Shwytky.

“All the phones were down so I couldn’t get a hold of anyone, and I got home and all the alarms were going off.”

What had happened didn’t sink in until the next day at the Blackie Evacuation Centre where the family of five had been relocated.

The Shwytky Family gathered outside their new home.

Photo by Jennifer Dorozio“We were counting the rooftops of the houses from the aerial news footage when we saw our house,” Shwytky said. “It was surreal, it was so unbelievable. We were in shock for sure.”

The Shwytky family was living in the Hampton Hills neighbourhood of High River during the June 20, 2013 Alberta Flood. The Hamptons had been used as an exit for floodwater and as a result experienced some of the heaviest flooding as water raged over the banks of the Highwood River.

Fast forward to the present day and the Shwytky family has moved six times in the last 21 months. Everywhere from evacuation camps, friend’s homes, their own RV at a campground, government-provided ATCO trailers and finally to the apartment where they currently live.

When it rains, Shwytky says the first thing she thinks of is a dark and rainy night in a muddy campground. That was where her family and their large sheepdog, Lucky, balefully watched the rain falling from inside the cramped RV they had purchased in a desperate move to find somewhere more permanent.

“We didn’t like the rain then, and that was right after the floods. We’d always be looking out the windows.”

This May however, marks what Shwytky calls, “the end of our little book.” After a long anticipated waiting period her family has moved to a permanent home in Calgary.Maya (left), Serena (middle), and Anna (right) with their fellow flood survivor and fluffy companion, Lucky.

Photo courtsey of Barbara Shwyty

Angela Woodley, who knows the Shwytky’s well because their daughters dance together at a dance studio in High River, has witnessed first-hand the struggle the family has gone through.

“I’m so thrilled for them. I’m looking for the day where Barb just comes to the dance studio and is actually just relaxed. That’ll be great,” Woodley said. “They haven’t had a home for almost two years –nowhere to call home just being shuffled around.”

“That’s been the hardest part of it all –you feel like you’re on vacation and you just want to go home,” Shwytky said.

It is because of this, she explains, that the biggest lesson she has learned is, “patience. I’ve had to have a lot of patience.”

For three months after the flooding, the family was unable to enter or visit their house.

“We helped others clean up their houses because no one was allowed in ours,” Shwytky said.

“Sept. 26th was the first time we got into our house but there wasn’t anything in it that was salvageable.”

Shwytky said that losing her material possessions was secondary to the turmoil of waiting on hearing from the province about how their situation would be dealt with.

She describes dealing with the government as, “mentally and physically draining. It has taken a long time and many emails to get basically no where.”

The Shwytky’s home had not been insured and on top of the expenses that came with constantly moving, as well as paying rent in the government apartments, they have had to deal with housing and mortgage costs on their demolished home.

“It probably would have been better to declare bankruptcy and just walk away two years ago than what we spent on reports, and rent, and mortgage, and all the expenses,” Shwytky said. “We’ve gotten in a lot of debt in the last two years over it.”

The Shwytkys recently received a check from the province, with no explanation attached to it, that they have put towards getting approved for a second mortgage.

While the cheque does help, Shwytky added, the combined costs of carrying over their previous mortgage, a new mortgage and the expenses that incurred over the past two years “has definitely put us in a huge financial bind.”

Despite these hardships, Shwytky said her family and their community has made all the difference in moving forward.A fresh start and a fresh batch of cookies in the Shwytky’s new home.

Photo by Jennifer Dorozio

“I’m really proud of how she got through the trauma because it just kept getting worse day after day, week after week, and month after month, and now year after year,” say family friend Woodley. “She’s still been able to keep her head up.”

“It’s been challenging but it has brought us a lot closer,” Shwytky said. “We’ve had to deal with a lot of stuff together.”

Shwytky is looking forward to her home for the normalcy it will bring. They will, “have a kitchen table we can all sit at.”

 jdorozio@cjournal.ca

 To contact the editor responsible for this story; Melissa Kadey at mkadey@cjournal.ca