06/24/2013 12:03 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario volunteers arrive in Alberta to aid flood victims

Ontario-based volunteers with the Red Cross and other charitable organizations are in Alberta to reach out to flood-stricken victims there, hauling thousands of blankets, cots and hygiene kits.

Humanitarian aid workers with the Canadian Red Cross Society left Toronto's Pearson airport Sunday night with supplies as murky waters from the historic deluge are beginning to recede in Calgary and Medicine Hat, leaving widespread damage in their wake.

Bill Ferris, a retired school teacher from Burlington, Ont., was among those who made the trek, after having recently returned from a flood zone in Northern Ontario.

"My mom and dad were always involved in charity work. It's just giving back to the community. Helping others makes us feel good," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday from a dorm room at the University of Calgary.

He could be there for as long as three weeks.

Reminds volunteer of 1993 Mississippi flood

Ferris, who has been volunteering for 20 years with the Red Cross, said that upon driving in from the airport, the devastation has so far reminded him of the aftermath of the "Great Flood of 1993" that inundated 78,000 square kilometres of Mississippi.

- Map: Red zones in place in Calgary

- Read: Medicine Hat fears rising river after Calgary floods

- See: Flood areas before and after

- Live updates: The latest from CBC reporters, Alberta officials

- See: Your photos of southern Alberta floods

- List: Alberta emergency contacts

He nevertheless expects locals to be holding strong, in spite of the widespread damage.

"I think you're going to see quite a resilience from the people that are on the ground," he said.

Ferris doesn't know exactly where he'll be deployed or exactly how he'll be asked to help, but he's alarmed by the crisis in Alberta. Premier Alison Redford has already commented that the devastation is "like nothing we've ever seen before."

The urgency of the situation spurred John Van Marrum to pack a truck filled with supplies and drive to Alberta all the way from Southern Ontario.

'Life is gonna come back to normal'

Van Marrum, who works with the Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse, said that as soon as he got word around suppertime on Sunday that waters were beginning to recede, he was called upon to get the truck rolling.

His semi-trailer is a mobile command centre, kitted out with communications equipment for speaking with site managers as well as tools such as pumps, shovels, chainsaws and generators.

"You're dealing with people that are probably at their lowest, and because usually the damage is so extensive, they don't know where to start," Van Marrum said. "So when we show up with a bit of an organized plan and when volunteers start walking up people's driveways, eight or nine people at a time and saying, 'We're here to help you,' they have some semblance that life is gonna come back to normal."

The aid volunteer is accustomed to a life on the road. He just got back from Huntsville, Ont., helping with flood cleanup for five weeks, and also lent a hand in Thunder Bay, which was flooded last May.

"There's always room for help," he said.

Mobile customers can text REDCROSS or ROUGE to 30333 to donate $5 in support of the Red Cross aid effort in Alberta.