CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Southern Alberta braced for more disruption on Saturday from floods that killed at least three people, forced about 100,000 from their homes and blacked out the center of Canada’s oil capital, Calgary.
Communities to the south and east of Calgary were on high alert as flood waters moved across the region. But with rainfall easing, a few residents began returning to damaged homes and authorities were hopeful that the worst might be over.
“It’s morning in Calgary! Sunny, water levels are down, and our spirit remains strong,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said on Twitter. “We’re not out of this, but maybe have turned (the) corner.”
The floods followed some 36 hours of unusually heavy rainfall - some communities received six months of their normal rainfall in under two days.
Evacuations started on Thursday in Calgary and in smaller cities. Utility Enmax switched off power to central Calgary on Friday afternoon lest water damage its downtown facilities, and the area was still without power and closed to cars on Saturday.
A few tourists and residents strolled in the carless streets of the city’s core, but the area was eerily quiet.
Officials were unable to say how much it would cost to repair flooded homes and rebuild roads and bridges washed away by the murky brown floodwater.
But the floods are already shaping up to be significantly worse than those of 2005, which caused C$400 million ($383 million) in damage.
The bulk of the evacuations were in Calgary, a city of 1.1 million that is home to Canada’s biggest energy companies.
The city ordered some 100,000 residents to leave their homes, urged drivers to stay off the roads, and warned people not to get too close to the still raging rivers.
“If you want to help your city, the best thing you can do is stay home,” Nenshi, visibly tired after two days of crisis management, told a news conference.
Canada’s main oil-producing region in the north of the province, was not affected, although some farmland was flooded, which will likely weaken crops that include wheat and canola.
Police said three bodies had been found near High River, a town of 13,000 about 60 km (40 miles) south of Calgary. A fourth person may still be missing.
“A lot of Albertans have faced disasters the likes of which the majority of us could never imagine,” Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths told a news conference.
In Calgary, authorities said water levels were expected to drop in the coming days. But the Bow River was still flowing at around five times its normal rate.
Nenshi said downtown could be off limits until the middle of next week “at the earliest,” forcing companies to work from alternative sites.
A spokesman for Imperial Oil, Canada’s second-largest producer and refiner, said the company was working on plans to maintain essential operations, including allowing employees to work from other locations.
It was not clear when trading in Canadian crude oil would resume after little if any occurred on Friday.
Shorcan Energy Brokers, which provides live prices for many Canadian crude grades, operated out of Toronto on Friday rather than from Calgary, although no trades in Western Canada Select heavy blend or light synthetic crude took place.
Net Energy Inc, the other main Calgary crude broker, was closed on Friday and no trading took place.
Many roads and bridges remained closed, and the city banned the use of tap water for car-washing or other outside activities because treatment plants take more time to process the sludgy water. But Nenshi said Calgary water was still safe to drink.
And as flood waters receded, a few residents started returning home to flooded basements and thick layers of silt on streets and sidewalks.
“We had four feet of water,” said Gordon Weir, 53, standing outside his home in the city’s Elbow Park community as a pump spewed water from his basement onto the street.
“It was all from ground water, so coming up from the sewers and through the concrete. This is one of the higher houses on the block. Our neighbors had seven or eight feet.”
Canada’s ruling Conservative Party scrapped plans to hold their annual party convention in Calgary next weekend.
“There are neighborhoods under water, so there is a lot of work we have to do to rebuild,” said Michelle Rempel, Chair of the convention’s Host Committee. “Postponing the convention is the right thing to do for the people of Calgary.”
The flooding affected the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, an annual extravaganza of cows, cowboys and horses scheduled to start on July 5.
Nenshi insisted the rodeo would go ahead. “We’re Calgarians. We’ll make it work,” he said. “It may look different, but the show will go on.”
Writing by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Eric Walsh