Foothills stronger one year later.

Flood: June 2013 a learning experience

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 05:33 pm

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The MD of Foothills has worked hard over the last year to rebuild from the destruction that began on June 20, 2013, but Reeve Larry Spilak said they’re still feeling the effects.

“After you experience a devastation of this magnitude, it isn't anything you forget easily especially when you know it could occur again and water is one of those unstable things that you're just never sure when or how its going to react,” he said. “I will say that our residents as a whole will be much more relaxed after the end of June.

“There's still concern today when you hear about 10 or 15 cm of rain, they know that that's what they heard last time and it ended up being 40 or 50, so they're concerned, and I don't blame them.”

Spilak said resident’s safety was their first priority as the waters began to rise last year.

“Your biggest concern is always your residents, so that was our first response,” he said. “And I believe our staff and first responders did a remarkable job in getting them out of harms way. Of course in some situations it was even difficult for our first responders to get in.”

While most of the Foothills residents did make it to safety, the Foothills Fire Department was unable to save 35-year-old Amber Rancourt, who was swept away in the floodwaters near Longview. Deputy chief Gregg Schaalje said they’re still feeling the effects of the loss.

“Our firefighters in Longview had eyes and ears on her for an hour and 45 minutes, and our department did not have the capability or the training to do anything,” he said. “We were almost rendered useless other than just yelling words of encouragement, but over the raging waters, it was almost impossible.”

Prior to the 2013 flood, water rescues were handled by other nearby departments, but the Foothills department has now received specialized swift water rescue training, as well as a $250,000 donation from Spruce Meadows which included a new truck, an 18ft rescue boat, and funds for additional gear and water training.

“We’ve heightened our response capabilities which means a great deal to us,” Schaalje said. “If we rewind a year ago we had none of this and now we have the capability of helping out our own and being able to be stronger. We can move forward and we have the opportunities for quicker response.”

Foothills director of emergency management Clayton Terletski said the lack of warning was the biggest issue in the MD during the flood, and over the last year they’ve worked on developing better notification for both emergency services and residents.

“The biggest step forward is a combination of better communication with the provincial government in regards to monitoring and just a better understanding and awareness with the citizens too,” he said.

The MD of Foothills has added additional water monitoring stations along the rivers so they don’t have to rely as much on the province to send them information. They’ve also introduced a new emergency notification system for residents to sign up for which allows notifications to be sent directly to residents by phone, text message, or email.

The MD has so far been given over $20 million for flood remediation and mitigation projects by the provincial and federal government. Spilak said the projects have been moving along and he’s satisfied with the amount of work that has been completed in the last year.

“The unique challenges were in repairing our roadways,” he said. “We had 23 bridges that were damaged in the flood, and we have now replaced 16, so I'm pleased to say that and seven are in works.

“We had 30 km of roadway totally wiped out, so it was important to get those roads open, and I can say that 90 per cent of them were open within 10 days.”

So far, none of the funding requests have been turned down from the province, and the MD is still waiting to hear back on 11 projects that have been applied for, said Spilak.

Spilak noted that phase one of the work at Millarville in Three Point Creek has been one of the biggest projects completed so far. As well, he hopes a decision will be made on the proposed High River diversion within the next month.

Looking back, Spilak said from June 20, 2013 until now, the flood process has been challenging.

“We've come a long way in a year and keeping in mind that there really isn’t any training for this, it’s a learning process for everyone including our provincial government, local service providers, and politicians,” he said. “It’s something that we've all learned together, and I hope we never have to go through it again.”


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