06/13/2013 03:26 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta residents try to save homes from surging river

Thousands of sandbags line the eroding banks of the Hangingstone River as Fort McMurray, Alta., residents work desperately to save their homes.

As many as 2,000 sandbags are piled three and four high, a temporary berm created by residents and volunteers.

The river is slowly finding its way toward back yards of homes along the river, leaving homeowners in fear their houses may eventually slide into the raging water.

"It's not a matter of 'if,' it's 'when' it's coming," said resident Dave Courture watching in awe from the banks. "We all know it is."

He said the normally placid river can be walked across in mid-summer without getting one's knees wet.

"It's just amazing, he said. "I haven't seen anything like it around here."

Homeowners have put aside documents and belongings and, in some cases, loved ones in case an evacuation is ordered.

Kelly Tuohey sent her two-year-old twins to stay with a friend.

"My friend, she took my babies and my paperwork," she said through tears.

Tuohey's home has already experienced some flooding in the basement.

"Our concern in this home is that if we flood it's not covered by insurance," she said.

But her bigger headache now is the eroding banks.

"What if the property goes? Landslide — that's my worry."

While she's thankful for the efforts of volunteers in placing the sandbags, she wonders about their effectiveness.

"My fear is erosion will get us first so these sandbags will be in the river," she said. "The river will come and get us."

The latest forecasts call for anywhere from 50 to 100 millimetres of rain over the next 48 to 72 hours.