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Albertans stacking sandbags in anticipation of spring floods

Jill Colton, staff writer

March 31, 2011 — When it comes to the flooding risk, it's a race against the clock for those living in southeastern Alberta.

Image of flooding from June 2010.
Image of flooding from June 2010.

Medicine Hat residents are not taking any chances this year.

They're already filling sandbags trying to protect their homes from potentially hazardous spring flooding.

With the weather warming up, the threat of rising water is a grim reality for many, including Bill Zawadiuk. He and his wife have been making arrangements for weeks in anticipation of the rapid snow melt.

“I'm going to protect our property and everyone else around here is doing the same thing. Because we definietly don't want to see what happened last year happen this year,” he said woefully in an interview with The Weather Network's Tim Henley.

Alberta Environment spokeswoman Carrie Snacartier, echoes his sentiments. “If anyone has had problems with melting snow in the past, they certainly need to be vigilant this year.”

2010 was one of the worst years on record in terms of spring flooding. Strong currents tore through the city of Medicine Hat devastating roads and bridges. At one point, the Trans-Canada Highway was closed for two solid weeks all the way east to Saskatchewan.

June 2005 marked another month of significant flooding and not just for Medicine Hat. Heavy rains caused water damage in about 40,000 homes across Calgary. More than 1,500 Calgarians were evacuated in a state of emergency.

Sandbags are essential to prevent flood damage.
Sandbags are essential to prevent flood damage.

And this is precisely why Bill isn't taking any chances this spring.

“We have purchased lumber, rebar and built a retaining wall around the areas of the house that will be prone to flooding,” he explains.

The potential for flooding in low-lying areas like Medicine Hat is high because of the melting snow. However, so far there hasn't been enough rain for the province's rivers to overflow.

The Alberta government recently provided the province with $1.2 million to help people in the southeastern region prepare for the potential onslaught of water.

The money is being used to protect homes and businesses from rising water levels.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said the subsidy would help pay for sandbags, temporary berms and portable dams. An additional $200,000 would provide flood hazard mapping studies in the province, beginning in the Cypress Hills region.

Toby Bellis, an emergency manager with the City of Calgary's water services offers these tips to help people protect their homes.

  • Check downspouts and make sure they are clear of snow and debris. It's also important that they're extended at least five feet from their homes.
  • Remove snow from house foundations.
  • Ensure that sump pumps and backflow prevention devices are working.
  • Call 311 to report plugged storm drains or major water-pooling.
  • Call 911 to report rapidly flooding basements.

With files from CBC Calgary

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