CALGARY — A good portion of Calgary remained soaked by flood water Saturday morning, but there was some good news — the sun was out, rivers were receding and at least some evacuees were being allowed back home.
Still, flood officials were warning that nothing was going to happen quickly and they were urging displaced people to stay away from their neighbourhoods until the city said it was safe to return.
“Only make an attempt to return to your home if you have clear messaging from the City of Calgary that that area has been opened up and it’s safe to do so,” Emergency management director Bruce Burrell said.
“If we have convergence of a lot of people trying to return early, it will put a strain on our resources, the roads will become congested and it will become much more difficult to re-enter in an organized manner.”
People have been forced from their homes in more than two dozen neighbourhoods along the Bow and Elbow Rivers in the city.
Residents in a portion of one of those neighbourhoods — the high ground portion of Discovery Ridge —have been allowed back.
Later Saturday, officials were hoping to open up portions of six more neighbourhoods that didn’t flood. The names of those neighbourhoods would be posted on the city’s website.
Officials say it could be midweek before access to the city’s downtown is fully restored.
The flood has hit some of the city’s iconic structures hard. The Saddledome, home to the NHL’s Calgary Flames, was flooded up to the 10th row while water lapped at the roof of the chuckwagon barns at the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to start in two weeks.
Flows on the smaller Elbow were expected to decrease by 60 per cent over the next 48 hours. Flows on the larger Bow were forecast to go down by 25 per cent over that same period.
While the news was good in Calgary, communities downstream were bracing for their own crisis.
Water levels are rising in Medicine Hat, while officials with Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency are preparing for the possibility of an evacuation order for the community of Cumberland House by Monday.
Medicine Hat declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon, saying it was expecting its river to crest Saturday night. Ten thousand residents in low-lying areas were told they needed to be out of their homes by this morning.
“We’re planning for the worst,” Mayor Norm Boucher told the Medicine Hat News.
“We have to make sure that people are safe, and if we can protect some properties we will do that, but water and electricity are so important. People have to live and people will come back a we’ll come through this.”
Lethbridge was also preparing for high waters. No evacuations had been ordered, but Alberta Emergency Services was expecting a number of bridges to be washed out.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency announced plans Friday to open floodgates along Lake Diefenbaker as water flows into the South Saskatchewan River from Alberta.
“The community of Cumberland House will need to be evacuated by Monday,” said the agency, adding the river is expected to be at 12 times its normal level. The move will impact about 800 people.
The flooding has claimed at least three lives in Alberta, and a fourth person is missing.
Mounties confirmed that three bodies had been found in the Highwood River near the community of High River, southwest of Calgary. Their identities are not known, but earlier in the week a woman was swept away in her camper, a man was seen falling out of a canoe and witnesses reported seeing two male bodies floating down the river.
Premier Alison Redford planned to visit Medicine Hat and High River on Saturday.
On Friday, she and Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the flood zone; both said there will be funding available under provincial and federal disaster assistance programs under the usual formulas for such incidents.
High River was one of the hardest-hit areas.
It is estimated half the people experienced flooding in their homes. Roads and bridges have been swamped, police have cut off access to most of the town and helicopters have been circling overhead.
Cars lie submerged in water, abandoned, while backhoes work in vain to push water back from houses.
Some 390 Canadian Forces personnel were joining RCMP officers in a door-to-door search of residences in many areas of the town.
Town spokeswoman Joan Botkin said the public is no longer allowed to enter the community, which is limited to emergency personnel only. She said it was for security purposes to ensure that people’s property is safe from looters.
There are still areas of town that have too much water for rescuers to search.