Aban­doned homes stark re­minder of 2013 floods

High River re­build­ing nearly com­plete

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - NEWS - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Even as High River fin­ishes re­build­ing, an aban­doned neigh­bour­hood full of mil­lion-dol­lar homes is a stark re­minder of dev­as­tat­ing flood­ing four years ago.

Floods in parts of south­ern Al­berta in June 2013 caused bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age. In High River, one of the hard­esthit com­mu­ni­ties, en­tire neigh­bour­hoods stood un­der wa­ter for weeks.

Nearly all of the com­mu­nity’s 12,000 res­i­dents were forced from their homes.

“It’s been very hard. It’s not easy to re­build from some­thing that was that dev­as­tat­ing,’’ said High River Mayor Craig Sn­od­grass.

“We’re 95 per cent com­plete.’’

Some neigh­bour­hoods were con­sid­ered to be too much at risk to re­build. Beach­wood, once an up­scale neigh­bour­hood along the High­wood River, was one of them.

The Al­berta gov­ern­ment shelled out $92.9 mil­lion to the dis­placed home­own­ers of 94 prop­er­ties. Of those, 54 were slated for de­mo­li­tion, 26 auc­tioned off and the fate of 14 oth­ers is still up in the air.

The road into Beach­wood is blocked by a berm now to pre­vent fu­ture flood­ing.

Al­though most win­dows and doors are boarded up, the empty homes ap­pear to be in good re­pair. The grass is still be­ing mowed. Flow­ers and li­lac trees are in full bloom.

A chil­dren’s swing set stands in the back­yard of one home, one of the swings eerily mov­ing to and fro in the wind.

A firepit sits un­used. A pile of boxes sits out­side an­other home where an aban­doned bed frame leans up against the garage door.

No ve­hi­cles are al­lowed into the neigh­bour­hood but it has be­come a cu­rios­ity. About a dozen peo­ple were walk­ing up and down its streets on a re­cent spring day.

“I feel like I’m walk­ing through a ceme­tery,’’ said one woman who drove out from Cal­gary. “It’s so sad.’’

An Al­berta gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said not all of the homes bought in the auc­tion have been moved yet, but Beach­wood’s fate is clear.

“Even­tu­ally what­ever can’t be sold or sal­vaged would be de­mol­ished,’’ said Jes­sica Lu­cenko with Al­berta In­fra­struc­ture.

The mayor would like to see Beach­wood put to rest.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent feel­ing walk­ing through there. The lawns are mowed and it looks like peo­ple should be walk­ing out of the doors, but that’s not the case,’’ Sn­od­grass said.

“It’s just an­other project that’s near­ing com­ple­tion for us. That’s what Beach­wood is. It just be­comes part of the river way, part of the flood way.’’

The re­build­ing forced by the flood means High River has done “80 to 100 years’ worth’’ of in­fra­struc­ture changes and a re­design in three years, he said.

“It’s been chaos but look at the re­sults to­day. It’s been worth ev­ery sec­ond of it. It’s been hard for the res­i­dents. It’s been hard for the busi­nesses. But every­body’s go­ing to thrive be­cause of the de­ci­sions we made.’’

Sn­od­grass said not only has down­town been com­pletely re­designed but the com­mu­nity is the most flood-proof in Canada.

Still, scars re­main. Up to onethird of the com­mu­nity is prob­a­bly suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, he said.

“When your home and your busi­ness and your lives are threat­ened, don’t think for a sec­ond that it doesn’t af­fect you men­tally go­ing through that.’’

The pop­u­la­tion of High River sits at 13,500 — nearly a thou­sand higher than when the flood hit. And there are more busi­ness li­cences than there were in 2012, said Jodi Daw­son, the town’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment man­ager.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A weed grows up through a drive­way at an aban­doned home four years af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing flood in High River, Alta. An aban­doned neigh­bour­hood full of mil­lion-dol­lar homes is a stark re­minder of dev­as­tat­ing flood­ing four years ago.

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