Friday, August 1, 2014

Forecasts lift soggy spirits

Improved forecasts yesterday were lifting soggy spirits in southern Alberta, where heavy rainfall and swollen rivers had residents worried about evacuations and damage to their homes.
“The rain is lightening, the infrastructure is catching up to the excessive flows,” said Rob Steel, mayor of Claresholm, where a voluntary evacuation centre had to be set up after rain came down in sheets earlier in the day.

“If it stays like this, it’ll just get better and better as each hour goes by.”
Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman said concerns were eased when lighter rainfall lowered peak forecasts for the Oldman River, which runs through his city.
“Things are looking much better,” he noted.
“To our relief, the rainfall upstream wasn’t as severe as predicted overnight, so the provincial river flow forecast has improved significantly.”
The same forecast was welcome news in Medicine Hat, where Alberta Environment was predicting peak flows on the South Saskatchewan River at 2,400 cubic metres per second—less than half the original prediction that had people fearing a repeat of the deluge that happened last year.
“What we’re telling people now is they can stand down,” said Medicine Hat Fire Chief Brian Stauth.
“We don’t anticipate that we are going to evacuate.”
However, there still were problems. Late yesterday, the Town of Fort Macleod declared a state of emergency after low-lying areas and Highway 811 were breached by water.
The town said there would be no mandatory evacuations, but urged residents to call 9-1-1 if they felt they needed assistance to leave their homes.
“We’re still very concerned because there’s a heavy rainfall warning in effect,” Steel said.
“This is still a very dynamic situation.”
Alberta Environment spokesman Evan Friesenhan explained initial river forecasts were based on rainfall predictions of up to 200 mm in the southwest part of the province.
While rainfall was as heavy as predicted, it wasn’t as widespread.
“We did get a localized area that received 175 mm but as we moved away from that bull’s eye. the amounts decreased significantly,” noted Friesenhan.
“We didn’t get the 200 mm over as large an area as was forecast.”
But even with the threat subsiding, the mess left behind is significant.
Claresholm, a town of 3,800 about 130 km south of Calgary, has about 40 damaged homes—some surrounded by water and some swamped, Steel said.
In some cases, sewers backed up.
About 250 homes in Lethbridge were affected, most with flooded basements.
Alberta Municipal Affairs minister Guy Weadick said 20 families were forced from their homes on the Blood reserve.
They were being housed in a recreation facility in nearby Standoff.
In all, nine communities and municipal districts declared states of local emergency.
Another three activated their emergency response plans.
The flooding came as southern Alberta prepared to mark the one-year anniversary of the 2013 flood.
In total, 100,000 people had to flee their homes last June.
Damage estimates have reached as high as $6 billion.

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