|The Great Canmore Flood|
This is the first time I've been able to sit at a computer since last Wednesday. Scott has hooked up his laptop and I can't explain the sense of relief it is to type on a laptop - a sense of normality in the face of what has gone on the last 4 days.
It feels like it's been a year but it is indeed only 4 days.
Since we still have so much to do (like going to collect more bottled water as we just received notice that the boil water advisory will be on for at least another week) here is a brief synopsis of our family's experience of the Great Canmore Flood of 2013.
Wednesday June 19 - Scott and I were supposed to go to Calgary that evening as I had won an award at the University of Calgary and we were going to make a date night out of it.
But since the baby decided to keep us up the night before and it was pouring rain all day, we changed our plans and went to dinner in Banff instead.
Coming home just before 10pm that night we noticed the service vehicles on the bridge over Cougar Creek on Elk Run Boulevard. Since the creek has sustained some damage last spring with the rains we weren't surprised that it was being monitored.
Around midnight I woke up to settle Ellie back to sleep, and saw that there were service vehicles on the Trans Canada Highway (which we can see out our bedroom window), but also saw transport trucks driving through so didn't think twice of it.
Thursday June 20 - 5am - Bolting out of sleep to the sound of DINGDONGDINGDONGDINGDONG! and pounding on the door.
My first befuddled thought was 'what the hell is that?', followed half a second later by 'we're being evacuated'.
I raced to the door and answered it the same time as my next door neighbour to a fireman asking how many people in our house, and then told us to 'Get out now'. In my sleepy shock I asked how much time we have and he said 'we think the bridge is going to go - the only way to get out of Cougar Creek (the neighbourhood) is over Elk Run and we're not sure how long that is going to last - get out now.'
I raced back inside and we began packing. Scott's mum was in town visiting with us and ever the Gramma immediately made the baby a bottle. Scott and I began throwing things into duffel bags - phone chargers, toothbrushes, every diaper and wipe in the house, and then as the minutes went by the questions came;
Do we bring the computer hard drive? Yes - put it in the trunk of the car.
Do we bring more clothing? - I don't know how long we'll be gone for.
What else do we need? - I don't know because we don't know where we're going or for how long.
We drove the two blocks to my mom's house and set up a temporary camp there.
At this point it was about 7am and all the neighbours were out, with their rain coats, umbrellas and dogs. Elllie went down for her morning nap (thankfully there is a crib at Mimi's house), and Scott and I went for a walk to check things out. Since the urgency had almost subsided with the dawn, we chatted with neighbours, took photos and marvelled at how high the water was.
|The Creek at about 7 or 8am|
|Scott looks at the pedestrian bridge we used to walk on every day and was at this point an island|
If you're not familiar with Cougar Creek it is normally a dry rock ditch that has water in it for about 2 weeks of the year with June rains and the snow melt.
It's actually an ugly site, and I was always thankful that even though our house backed onto the creek, our yard sloped so we couldn't see any of the rocks, only the trees and mountainscape on the other side.
As the minutes ticked by things drastically changed and it became apparent that the rain and the destruction of the creek was not nearly over.
|Fellow neighbours watched the early morning destruction|
We decided to walk back to my mom's house to get the car and pick up the cats at our house - as we had initially left them since the first evacuation had seemed merely precautionary.
As we came around the corner to my mom's street there was another set of fire department members evacuating the neighbourhood. We went to the house and told the Grammas to pack their bags.
After somewhat successfully getting my mom packed, we took the car back to our house one last time and put the cats in the hatch of my mom's car, with Scott, his mom and the baby in our car.
|The last look of our house - roped off as we tried to evacuate.|
We attempted to get out of the neighbourhood and were about 4 cars away from crossing the bridge when the bridge became too unstable and they turned people away; telling us to go to Exshaw.
We didn't know what would be in Exshaw for us, but since we had no where else to go we headed down to the 1A highway - and it was painfully obvious that it was washed out in both directions. We turned and headed back up Elk Run Blvd, and saw that people were parking at the municipal Bylaw building.
We parked the cars and left the cats in my mom's with food, water and a litter box - which Grover was hiding in.
The Bylaw building was in a state of excitement and confusion as more and more people started arriving. Since we live in Canmore there were many dogs barking and fighting, along with scared children crying and people looking around for direction.
|Arriving at the Bylaw building|
A kind staff member led us to a small meeting room away from the noise and said that we should claim this space. We had brought the play pen and as much food as we could, so we set up a little camp - thinking that we could stay here.
|Ellie peeking out at the activity in the hall from our 'camp'|
People began filling the halls; children of all ages, elderly people, friends, neighbours, strangers. Rumours flying but a sense of camaraderie and support was prevalent.
Scott and I walked down to the one restaurant open in the area, Valbella's Meats & Deli, and got sandwiches, cheese, chocolate and water. We had a veritable picnic in our office camp, and Ellie had a great time watching all the people go by the window.
An announcement came that there were plans to get in school buses to take people out of Cougar Creek into town; it wasn't mandatory so we all (Scott, myself, both our mothers and Ellie) decided to stay put as we had been evacuated twice and were exhausted.
About 20 minutes later a Town employee knocked on our door and told us to pack up. We told her that we had decided to stay, and she said 'you have a baby, you may want to check with Lisa (the head point of contact)', so I went out as she was finishing her second announcement and I spoke up: 'I'm sorry I didn't hear all of that - we have a baby, do we have to leave now?', to which she replied 'yes, and now'.
Once again we were packing our bags, and since this time we were going out of the neighbourhood and could not take our vehicles, we left the playpen at the Bylaw building, grabbed the cats out of the car (leaving my mom's cat at home with the door open to the upstairs suite - in hopes that if it did flood she could head up and be safe - and we only had so many arms to carry things), and boarded the bus.
I had (another) moment of panic when we approached the bus when a volunteer said 'ok pets go on the pet bus' as Scott and I were each carrying a cat. I looked over and saw the two Grammas and the baby looking out of the window of the 'people' bus, and said 'NO. No way - my baby is on that bus and I am going with her!' A neighbour offered to take one of the cats, but I pulled my mom off the bus and she, Scott and the two cats went on the 'pet bus' and Scott's mum, Ellie, myself and all of our bags went on the 'people bus'.
As we slowly rumbled over the Elk Run Blvd bridge in our caravan of buses, people were gasping in shock at the destruction.
We were on the north side and could barely see south towards our house, but at that point the creek had already destroyed so much.
A woman in the seat ahead of us gleefully cried out 'our house is ok! High five!' and began high fiving people all around her. She turned back to me and I stared at her outstretched palm and said 'That's my home down there', and burst into tears.
We arrived at Elevation Place, the new recreation centre in Canmore, where it was busy but organized. Volunteers registered us, people offered food, blankets and hugs. The child care centre was open so the little ones could play (which Ellie was happy about - through the day she was loving the whole adventure), and rooms upstairs for people to take their dogs and cats.
|Elevation Place/evacuation centre|
We got the cats upstairs and called a local vet, who had offered free boarding to evacuated animals.
This was a huge relief as we had got the cats out but didn't know what we were going to do with ourselves, never mind the animals.
Scott and I each took a cat - Grover still in his litter box and Cosmo in Scott's arms as we couldn't find the cat carrier in the garage in our rush to get out - and walked about 20 minutes down the road in the rain to the vets.
I had been running on adrenaline since 5am and when we checked the cats in I finally lost it.
Walking down Bow Valley Trail back towards Elevation Place I doubled over in tears and hysterical sobbing breaths. The fear, uncertainty and panic that we had been facing for almost 12 straight hours finally hit me, and we weren't nearly done dealing with this crisis.
Scott physically and emotionally supported me back to Elevation Place, and all I could think of was that I wanted to get out of there and away from all the people. Scott had the mind to suggest that I call The Georgetown Inn, where I serve at the pub one night a week, and ask about a room. When I told the general manager how many people we were she booked us all into a two bedroom condo - which was perfect not only in having more space for all of us, but also in that later that night the Georgetown Inn flooded.
If I had been thinking clearly I would have asked for a ride to the Mystic Springs Chalets, but as I just wanted to get out of the chaos we packed our bags again and all of us began the approx 1km walk to the Chalet. The Grammas were obviously slow, being Grammas and that they were laden with bags, and Scott and I had our own bags and took turns carrying the baby.
We arrived at the Chalet and it thankfully had two rooms, three beds, a full kitchen and a tv so that we could watch the rest of the emergency as it unfolded along the rest of the southern part of the province.
Since stress makes for short tempers on a good day, we were all pretty cranky by dinner, and Scott and I decided to walk down in the rain to the Georgetown to get some takeout, and maybe a beer. As we neared the western part of Bow Valley Trail it became apparent that this plan was not happening as the road was quickly flooding.
|The beginning of the flooding on Bow Valley Trail Thursday night|
We went to Dominos as it was still open (along with half of Canmore it seemed), and a kind woman gave us a ride home - just as we left the parking lot was being sandbagged and later was completely flooded as well.
That night we all went to bed exhausted, and yet still buzzing with frayed nerves. Scott and I had decided that having the Grammas was like having two extra kids, and since it was still raining and the entire town was under a state of emergency, we stayed packed and ready to leave again on a moment's notice.
I laid awake most of the night, with Ellie sleeping in between us, tossing and turning and karate-kicking our faces in turn. Around 1am the power went out and the quiet 'blip' of my phone jolted me awake. I lay there with my heart pounding, anticipating the pounding at the door and the evacuation notice. When the power 'blipped' back on around 2:30 I finally fell back asleep, giving thanks for getting through this day, and asking for strength for tomorrow.
|Exhausted Ellie sleeping on the couch|