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Limited return for High River evacuees

Evacuees will be returning to a town devastated by this month's floods.
Evacuees will be returning to a town devastated by this month's floods.

The Canadian Press

June 29, 2013 — Some evacuees forced out by flooding in the hardest-hit southern Alberta town will be walking through their doors Saturday for the first time in more than a week, but others could be waiting for another month or more.The province announced Friday that it would be allowing about 5,000 residents from the northwest corner of High River to return to their homes for the first time in 10 days.But even those in line for a close-up look were warned that not everybody would be able to stay.Shane Schreiber of Alberta Emergency Management cautioned that not all of the 1,000 homes in the neighbourhood would be livable because of flood damage.Schreiber also explained that the phased re-entry of evacuees could take as long as five weeks for people from the most heavily devastated part of the town of 13,000.He explained that one area he called "the big pond" needs to be pumped out and allowed to dry up."Sector 4 ... will take much longer ... because it's still under water," he said.Bus tours were to start Friday night for all residents so they could at least get an idea of the damage the raging Highwood River did when it burst it banks June 20 and pushed muddy water the colour of chocolate milk down streets, into parks and through people's homes.The province also announced that construction of temporary housing had begun for those not able to live in their homes right away."Two-thirds of this community is still under water because it is a collection bowl for the water, which means we have much more challenging infrastructure needs to meet before we can allow people to roll back in," Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said at an update in High River.In Calgary, which remains in a state of emergency after the Elbow and Bow rivers swamped low-lying areas and much of the downtown, the emergency management director also had some bad news.Bruce Burrell said it's estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 of the 75,000 people forced out at the height of the flood waters would be out of their severely damaged homes for "a significant period of time.""We do have a lot of people who this is going to take a very traumatic toll on,'' he said.Alberta Premier Alison Redford acknowledged the psychological toll of the disaster by announcing a chief mental health officer for the province. Dr. Michael Drew is to co-ordinate mental health resources, provide information and ensure "the emotional needs of flooding victims are addressed and met."In Medicine Hat, where flooding was bad early in the week, but not as extensive as had been anticipated, the city lifted a restriction on water use.Environment Canada was forecasting sunny, hot weather in most of southern Alberta for the Canada Day long weekend.

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