Former Okotokian says residents forgotten in the flood

Okotoks: Residents left to bale out on their own

By: Roxanne Blackwell

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

Lynne Steele's home on Oak Ave. was one of few that flooded in Okotoks last June. Steele, who has since moved away from Okotoks, said residents in town who were affected by the flood were forgotten last year.
Lynne Steele's home on Oak Ave. was one of few that flooded in Okotoks last June. Steele, who has since moved away from Okotoks, said residents in town who were affected by the flood were forgotten last year.
Wheel File Photo

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Compared to the devastation in other communities, Okotoks appeared to nearly go unscathed during last year’s flood, but some residents were left to cry for help in a town that supposedly didn’t have any flood damage.

After being an Okotokian for 14 years and enduring multiple floods, Lynne Steele sold her home on Oak avenue and now lives up high on a hill in Black Diamond.

She isn’t looking back.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “I moved May 30, and up until then every time it rained my guts were in turmoil. You just panic.”

Steele was one of few who suffered damage in Okotoks. According to Steele, for her and other residents in the Lineham area, it was like they didn’t even exist.

“We were told to register with the Red Cross, but when I went to register they told me nobody in Okotoks had been flooded. So I said ‘Well you know, maybe you should come to my house,’" she said.

She faced similar struggles when she was turned to the Okotoks emergency centre, as she tried to convince the staff that her house had been flooded.

In the months that followed, Steele said she became “bitter and twisted” at the lack of support from the community.

While funds trickled in from the government and communities pitched together to provide assistance for flood victims, Steele said no one in town ever came to her door.

“Most people in Okotoks didn’t know that anyone in town flooded, and they had so many fundraisers for High River and even Calgary. It was very disheartening,” she said.

Rose Marlow’s house on Riverside Drive also flooded last year, and she too was left looking for an extra hand.

“I believe in helping in High River, but help your own hometown first,” she said.

Okotoks Councillor Matt Rockley agrees that the victims in Okotoks were overlooked as everyone worked on helping our neighbours in High River.

“I think because of the severity of what happened in High River, with Okotoks avoiding major flooding of the downtown, I think the focus was on High River,” he said, but added that the town held two town hall meetings with the residents of Lineham to hear concerns and plan for future flood mitigation work.

Okotoks also suffered significant damage within the river valley, and has received $4 million from the province to fund remediation of pathways, riverbanks, and the Lion’s campground.

Mayor Bill Robertson said the town was prepared from previous floods and had a number of measures in place that significantly limited damage to Okotoks during the flood.

“A lot of people didn’t realize how we dodged a bullet,” he said. “We faired well partially because of our geography, but we also have a man-made berm which is the railroad tracks running through town, but we were within hours of that berm being breached.”

The town has also rented two water pumps each year since 2005 in case of an emergency situation. They’re now working on purchasing the pumps with mediation money from the province.

“I've had a resident say to me 'There's another waste of money, you rented the pumps and you didn’t use them.’ And my retort to him would be ‘You bought house insurance last year and your house didn't burn down, did you waste that money?’” he said. “It basically comes down to peace of mind.”

But with the number of mitigation projects that Okotoks has undertaken, including gravel bar mining, bank stabilization near Lineham, water treatment plant protection, and extra work on the railway track, Robertson said he feels confident that Okotoks would fair well again if they were in a similar situation as last year.

“We’ve had enough training in disaster exercises, and the town is well positioned to deal with another event,” he said. “But we are at the whim of Mother Nature, perhaps the next event will be twice as big as the last one, we really don't know.”


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