I woke up this morning thinking about Noah’s Ark, the moment when the water began to recede and everything started to look OK again.
On Thursday night, my city was flooded. I am still at a loss for words to describe what Calgary looks like. It’s quieter today, with just the sound of a helicopter flying along the Elbow River, but last night, there were more helicopters, and sirens every thirty seconds. There were no streetlights nearby, no traffic signals, no lights on in the houses beyond my block – they had all been evacuated. The rivers overflowed after weeks of relentless rain, and there was no way to stop the flood once it started. The water crept in, swallowing the communities along the Elbow and the Bow, swallowing whole portions of downtown. Last week, I walked over to the café I love, at the corner of 8th Ave & MacLeod Trail downtown, and found the place had been closed down, the windows papered. The best coffee in this city, and it wasn’t even there anymore. Yesterday, I saw a video of the flood, shot from right outside this building – there was water everywhere. A small brown ocean lapping at the corner of my café. Last night, after the rain finally stopped, I wandered south-east through my neighbourhood until I hit the water. I didn’t have to go far. Murky brown water had swallowed several city blocks, along with cars and the lower halves of houses and half a Safeway. Everything north of my apartment was evacuated, everything south, everything east. Walking down the abandoned streets, over garbage swept in by the rain and wind, over tree branches that had been ripped off and dropped in the middle of sidewalks, I felt incredibly lucky. Yellow police tape marked the doors of evacuated houses and apartment buildings everywhere I looked, and yet my own street, my own apartment building, was left completely untouched in the middle of all this devastation. It’s unreal.
When the evacuation started one block east of me, I started to worry. I packed a bag, just in case, and moved my things to the highest shelves, but I live in a basement apartment, so I knew that if we were flooded, I would lose everything anyway. Funny how quickly I decided what was important and what wasn’t. Papers I’ve been saving for years, notebooks, DVDs were deemed far less important than my box of photographs or the rosary my mom bought for me at Ste Anne de Beaupre in Quebec City. I could leave the sketchbook with all my drawings and the bound copy of my thesis, but my stuffed elephant and beaver were jammed into the side pockets of my backpack. And then I waited. All day, I watched the news and waited for the evacuation notice, for the water to creep in through the laundry room floor. Nothing came. A few blocks east, 17th Ave is under water, and the road to downtown is flooded. I know I’m lucky. Not just because my apartment survived – as much as I wouldn’t want to deal with a flooded living space, I know I would survive that – but because the water came so close, destroyed so much, and yet this one block is perfectly intact. Because today, the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, and even though the neighbourhoods surrounding me are still evacuated, I can hear people again. I was lucky, but the rest of this area of Calgary wasn’t so lucky.
The communities just north of the Bow River and between the Bow and Elbow are still mostly under water. I live between the two rivers, close enough to walk to either. My wandering last night didn’t take me anywhere near downtown, except for a short walk up 4th St just to make sure my store wasn’t under water, and it isn’t, even though that neighbourhood is still evacuated. But the photos everyone else has taken are just unbelievable. The theatre I go to downtown is under water. The Saddledome, where I went to see the Canadian Forces play some retired Calgary Flames for my 27th birthday is flooded. The seat I sat in, next to the rink, is gone. The park I like to walk through, on an island in the middle of the Bow, is barely more than a group of trees poking above the water now. The apartment in Inglewood where I almost lived is flooded, and so is the one in Mission and the one in Bridgeland and the one in Sunnyside. I could have lost everything, like so many other Calgarians, but for some reason, I was lucky.
Rebuilding will take months, once the water recedes. And even then, I don’t think this city will ever be the same again.