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Sunday, June 30, 2013

SOME HIGH RIVER RESIDENTS ALLOWED BACK HOME TO THEIR DESTROYED HOMES - THE REST STILL WAITING!

HIGH RIVER — Feelings of apprehension, relief and sadness mingled for High River residents as close to 5,000 northwest community members returned home for the very first time since flooding ravaged the town.
By early morning Saturday, the highways leading to the welcome centre at the rodeo grounds were packed with anxious residents of the northwest.
With the hot mid-afternoon sun shining down, Canadian Red Cross workers set up tents, handed out water and sunscreen to those standing in increasingly long lines.
One person in each family received a large box filled with water and flood cleanup materials and soon received word of the state of their homes.
An emotional Christine Doepel and her daughter Brooklynn Carney were told their home in Prairie Sound had an orange marking.
This meant their house requires extensive repairs and isn’t immediately habitable. Having her mom there to embrace meant the world to Carney.
“At least I have my mom,” she said, tears falling from under her dark sunglasses.
Carney said their house is still home and that just seeing it will make her feel better, even though there is extensive repair work.
“Not being able to live there is hard; we’re still waiting,” she said.
Homes were colour-coded based on the flooding damage sustained. Green means habitable and yellow means minor impact and possible repairs.
Those who received orange tape on their doors meant their homes require extensive repairs. Finally, the residents who received red meant their houses were severely damaged, dangerous and uninhabitable.
Doepel said Prairie Sound was a great community and she thought the repair work would go quick, based on the tight knit group of residents.
“The whole condo complex, we’re all so close together,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of help.”
Laurel Shewchuk, a resident of High River for 10 years, spoke before going into the welcome centre to learn the fate of his home in Riverside Place.
“I’m very apprehensive,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. I know there’s water in my basement and I didn’t get much out.”
He said he already knew that his house had received an orange marking, but that he didn’t know the extent of the damage.
“I just talked to a lady who received red,” he said. “She was handling it incredibly well; she was going to go pick up some clothes and personal things and get on with it.”
Shewchuk said he was in a bar in Calgary with his brother-in-law and other family members flooded out of High River and an act of kindness made him smile.
“When the waitress found out what we were doing, the bar picked up our whole tab and we had to force a tip on her,” he said with a laugh.
Such a gesture made him proud to be from the area and proud to be Albertan, he said.
“This has been an awesome community since I moved here from Manitoba,” Shewchuk said. “Nothing has changed my mind because of the kindness, fellowship and genuine caring expressed by total strangers.”
He said it would be a relief to return home after a frustrating wait, but that he just has to push through the tough parts of cleaning up after the flood.
“I’m not looking forward to it, but I have to go and do it,” he said.
Within Sector 1 — in which residents returned home to on Saturday — there were 1,817 homes to classify.
Of those, 639 received green markings, 318 had yellow and 719 homes had orange tape on their doors to return to. Some 141 homes had red markings.
Before residents entered their northwest neighbourhoods, they were greeted by Rick Fraser, minister of High River’s recovery, as well as Mayor Emile Blokland.
“This is an important milestone for the residents of High River and marks an important step towards the recovery and long-term restoration of High River,” Fraser said.
He said everything is being done to get community residents safely back into their homes, but that the anxiety is still there for many who can’t return home yet.
Despite receiving a green marking on his northwest home, Rob Tipple said there’s still so much uncertainty with when his pizza parlour will open again.
“There’s just so many questions and it’s in a part of town that we can’t get into yet,” he said.
He said when things get up and running, his staff will be working hard to get pizza and food to volunteers and emergency workers.
When it came to Brooklynn Carney and her mother, she had some powerful words to describe the day she learned she could return home.
“It was the best day of my life,” she said. “I just burst into tears, but then it’s hard because I have somebody sitting next to me whose crying because she couldn’t get into her home. It was very bitter sweet.”
KEVIN RUSHWORTH | QMI AGENCY

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