(Left to right) Red Cross volunteer Evelyn Simard sorts donations. Evacuees Louise and Anya Rowan. U of C volunteer coordinator Jim Molloy looks through donated clothes.
Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

A shelter from the storm at the U of C

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A group of children, none older than nine, run past the sign for Residence Services playing tag. An elderly couple eats lunch and watches a religious sermon on the television, enjoying a quiet afternoon in the dining hall.

These scenes in the residence dining centre are different from what university students would usually expect, as over 300 flood evacuees from across southern Alberta have taken temporary shelter in the University of Calgary residence buildings — and soon, they will be moved again.

The evacuees first came to U of C residence immediately after southern Alberta rivers began to flood on June 20. With people across the province forced to leave their homes, evacuees were brought to campus, with the effort co-ordinated by the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.
CEMA is an organization run by the City of Calgary and was primarily responsible for dealing with the evacuations for the worst flood in Calgary’s history.

As City of Calgary community development worker Zorian Klymochk explained, the scale of the emergency led to a longer-than-expected relief effort, bringing a continuous flow of evacuees into U of C residence with a diverse group of organizations involved.

“CEMA took the lead from the 20th [of June] and there was supposed to be a 72-hour response. That turned into a three-week response,” Klymochk said. “Through that time, Alberta Health, the fire department, the province, Red Cross — everybody started getting involved.”

According to U of C residence director Randy Maus, most of the evacuees came from Calgary and High River.

“A large number of evacuees came in immediately after the flood,” Maus said. “Right now, we’ve stabilized at around 330. We have about 140 from Calgary right now and 190 through the province, mostly from High River.”

After coming to campus, evacuees were given rooms and access to different services on campus, including Internet access and cards for food in the residence dining centre. Funding for the stay is being provided by the provincial and municipal governments.

Maus said Residence Services hired a new volunteer co-ordinator to organize the many people in the community offering a helping hand to those affected by the flood.

“A volunteer co-ordinator was hired to help out and it has really turned out quite well,” Maus said. “There are games nights, arts and crafts and some effort with accessing the gyms. The volunteers have really helped everyone with their stay on campus.”

One of these volunteers is Alice Cockroft, a former teacher who has set up arts and crafts for children to keep them busy during the day. Cockroft said she was impressed with the resilience the children have shown and the ease with which they have handled their change in circumstance.

“It’s really quite amazing,” Cockroft said. “I think the children live in the moment and they’re just so focused on what they’re doing right now. Maybe that provides an oasis for them and helps pass the time.”

For some though, their time after the flood has not been easy.

A man who would only identify himself as Erik was evacuated from his home in the East Village on June 20 and brought to three other temporary shelters before coming to the U of C. Erik said he was angry that the province did not prepare for a flood of this scale, despite knowing the dangers Calgary’s two rivers posed to the city.

"The province knew this was possible and did nothing. There was a report in 2005 that talked about it,” Erik said. “With the province, I don’t care about how many accolades they are getting from people right now — a lot of misery could have been prevented, a lot of damage could have been prevented and a lot of costs could have been prevented. I mean, if you don’t spend a penny to save a dollar, that’s more than mismanagement, that’s real negligence.”

The report he referenced came from the City of Calgary in 2005 and gave 18 recommendations for city flood prevention with a total price tag of $300 million.

Instead of waiting to be moved to another temporary shelter, Erik decided to go to British Columbia to stay with a friend.

“I’m getting tired of being moved around like a pawn on a chessboard. All this moving around is just adding to the stress of it all,” Erik said.

All evacuees staying on campus will have to leave by the end of July as new students for the upcoming school year begin moving into residence. Those who cannot return to their homes will be moved to new temporary housing, such as the new Great Plains developments in south Calgary.

The exact date of when evacuees will have to leave campus has not yet been determined.