One by one, I watched my co-workers drop their trays and leave the restaurant.
As the evacuation notices started pouring in, I remember thinking it all seemed a bit dramatic. Last I checked it wasn’t even raining anymore, and though the river levels were higher than normal, this was something we dealt with almost every June in Calgary.
Inside the restaurant where I work, the music was blaring, the drinks were flowing and it felt like your typical Thursday night. It wasn’t until my shift ended and I headed home that I realized something was horribly wrong.
Storm drains were starting to back up, and the road that I take to get home everyday was closed. Driving around downtown streets was eerie—there was no one to be seen, and each turn I took led to yet another road closure. Shit. I managed to escape the downtown core via a side street and made my way home. When I pulled into my driveway a blast of thunder ricocheted around me, and a streak of lightning shattered the sky.
Then the rain started to fall again, in endless sheets of impending disaster.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized the magnitude of what had happened in my hometown. The Elbow and Bow rivers had swelled to an all-time high, resulting in a massive overflow that engulfed the core areas of Calgary’s city centre and surrounding areas. Watching the news was a surreal experience—we’ve all seen the aftermath of natural disasters that occur around the world. It’s always upsetting and can be difficult to watch, but it doesn’t quite hit as hard as when it’s your own backyard. This isn’t some strange city in a foreign country. It’s 20 blocks away from the house I grew up in. The roads I drive on every day, the restaurants I eat at and the homes of people I know.
The highway up to the mountains that I had driven on a hundred times was wiped out. The town of High River was unrecognizable. I couldn’t help but feel spoiled that my suburban home, conveniently located near, but not along, a river that was completely unaffected. With city-wide power outages and a water ban in effect, authorities began what is currently an ongoing cleanup effort. The flood of 2013 made international news and is estimated to be the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.
Seven days later, the sun is shining in Calgary and life is slowly but surely getting back to normal. Driving through the areas that were hit the hardest, you’ll see hand-painted signs thanking the volunteers and service workers who sacrificed their time and supplies toward flood relief. There are workers from BC and Saskatchewan who selflessly made the drive to Calgary, Banff, High River, and Canmore with their trucks and equipment, knowing that local labourers would be in over their head.
As I sit downtown writing this article, I look outside and can see people of all ages walking around in rubber boots with shovels and garbage bags, covered in mud from head to toe. They are still smiling amidst the chaos. Strangers have sacrificed their time to empty flood-ridden basements and remove debris from streets and sidewalks. One can’t help but be impressed by the way that everyone has come together to help those who have been affected by Mother Nature’s latest Canadian outburst.
Those who know me well know the love-hate relationship I have with Cowtown, but it’s at times like this when I’m reminded of how much I love this city. These days, I proudly call it home.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the flooding. Text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $5 to flood relief.
Featured Images taken by Ashley Alexandre.