• Jerry Olynuk

How Tragedy Pulls A Community Together

Updated: May 9


The Calgary Flood of 2013 is one of the single largest environmental disasters that Canada has faced in many years. Individuals and agencies went into automatic action to deal with the emergency conditions that threatened the province. As conditions stabilized, the province began to assess the long term impact of the flooding. It is estimated that the flooding affected 55,000 sq. km. of Southern Alberta and over 100,000 homes. Statistics Canada recently reported the equivalent of 88,000 people out of work for the month and property losses estimated at $5 billion. Alongside the raw numbers, the flooding had some unexpected impacts on communities and many areas of the economy that should be noted.

Communities - extensive damage to infrastructure including roads and bridges, schools, hospitals and water treatment facilities. In addition public areas including damage to community centres and erasing of historic recreational areas. A pervasive mixture of river silt and raw sewage also created a major public health concern, complicating the cleanup.

Oil & Gas industry- the industry suffered the biggest loss of productivity in the flood. One in four jobs lost in June was at the expense of the oil and gas sector.

The Environment - many pathways, backyards and recreational properties simply ceased to exist, permanently washed away by the waters. Altered landscapes and newly cut river channels are forcing officials to consider whether or not properties can actually be restored. World class trout fisheries were also placed in doubt due to the loss of eggs for spawning.

The Arts & Charitable Organizations - Individual artists in many cases lost a lifetime of work and suffered major damage to tools and equipment. For both artists and collectors, most works were uninsurable.

Driving through the affected areas, it was sobering to see pile upon pile of ruined furniture, broken plaster board and moldy appliances out on the street. However, the response of local residents to the emergency was equally impressive. When a call went out for volunteers to help with the cleanup in Calgary, thousands of people turned out to fill 600 spots. Donations ranged from vehicles and lodging to child-care and laundry services. As the gravity of the situation in High River became evident, teams of volunteers were bused from surrounding communities to assist residents such as the elderly who were literally stranded in their own homes; unable to cope with the cleanup. Such were the efforts of volunteers during the flood that the Governor-General’s office recently announced the surprising award of commendation to the entire City of Calgary.

Companies like Suncor made major cash donations to flood relief efforts, but specialized pumping equipment and vacuum trucks provided the biggest, immediate assistance during the emergency as the industry’s fleet of vehicles was diverted to assist with the cleanup.

Wildlife officials and enthusiasts resorted to the unusual task of recovering fish stranded in pools on city streets and parks to limit the damage.

The Flood of 2013 will be remembered for the terrible damage to the province’s infrastructure, but what will remain with me is the tremendous efforts of individuals and organizations to combat the emergency. Although many residents in flood prone areas still face a difficult decision to rebuild or relocate, the outpouring of private resources has greatly helped to bridge flood victims over the initial disaster. It is often difficult to find the silver lining in a situation like this, however in this case unparalleled acts of unselfishness and sense of community will have a greater positive impact than the economic devastation of the flood itself.


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