HIGH RIVER, Alta. - 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 started Friday night for some 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.


"Really not nice there," an emotional Jan Ramakrishnan told Global Calgary after getting a look at his mud-caked house. "I'm really sad."

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.

He said there has been more significant infrastructure damage in the town than ever suffered anywhere else in the province in any kind of disaster.

Griffiths said power was starting to be restored, engineers were identifying which roads were safe and health and home inspectors were on the job.

The Alberta government has taken over recovery and rebuilding efforts in High River at the request of the town's mayor. The province has assumed responsibility for emergency operations, programs and services.

Mayor Emile Blokland said the floods that hit the town a week ago have been overwhelming and it's best if the province co-ordinates getting the community's back on its feet.

"It's become clear that the size and scope of this disaster is beyond anything we've ever seen before in Alberta," Blokland said at the same update in High River.

"It's even bigger that the destruction suffered by Slave Lake, as devastating as that was. The situation is simply much bigger, more complex and more difficult than our municipal council can handle," Blokland said.

"There are powers the province has and resources and expertise the province can marshal that are far beyond what our council can do -- and we'll need all those supports to get our town back on its feet."

Hundreds of homes and businesses -- about one-third of the town -- were destroyed two years ago when wildfires swept through Slave Lake in northern Alberta. Hundreds had to flee their homes and also were allowed to return in phases only.

Shreiber outlined that the High River re-entry would go from least to most affected areas. He said it would be three to five days before the next group of homeowners would be allowed in, five to seven days for the group after that and three to five weeks for people from the hardest hit section.

A government release said 8,250 High River evacuees had lined up Thursday to get pre-loaded debit cards and a similar number were expected Friday. The cards issued by the province are to cover immediate housing and day-to-day expenses -- $1,250 for each adult and $500 per child.

Tensions have been high in recent days as property owners have pressed officials to let them back into the town. Some have said they could see their homes from a distance and they looked fine.

Schreiber said homes that look to be dry on one particular sliver of land aren't necessarily safe.

"One of the problems is the infrastructure that supports all those homes is still all under water, so it's going to be dangerous. The homes may be above water, but all the power, sewer -- all that stuff -- is still under water."

About 50 residents camped out in a parking lot just outside the evacuation zone listening to a broadcast of the government's plans on a radio.

"There was a mix of relief and a little bit of dismay," said Floyd Langenhoff, a former town councillor.

"We don't see any reason why we can't be let in right now. We're tired of the procedure that's been put in place to allow us back into town."

Langenhoff, who is one of the first people being allowed to go home Saturday, said delaying the return might have made it too late to save some homes.

"I think a lot of people are going to be displaced from their homes. They're going to be horribly upset at the condition of their homes.

"Structural damage is one thing, but because of the delays and the time it has taken us to get in, we're going to lose houses because of mould and issues like that."

In Calgary, where 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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  • Homeowner Eddy Marshall becomes emotional as he surveys the damage to his basement at his residence in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • Mike Sojer moves clothing and items from his family's clothing store as clean up work commences on downtown places of business in High River, Alberta on July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • A resident walks past a motor boat lying in the street in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • Homeowner Eddy Marshall carries belonging from his basement at his residence in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • Mud and building contents litter the sidewalk as clean up work commences on downtown places of business in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • A pile of debris sits outside a Town of High River Municipal building as clean up work commences on downtown places of business in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • A volunteer's boots are caked with mud as clean up work continues on downtown places of business in High River, Alberta on Monday, July 1, 2013. A second wave of homeowners and business owners were allowed to return to the flood ravaged town since the disaster struck on June 20. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • Water surrounds homes in a flooded neighborhood in High River, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods over a week earlier. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Water floods a neighborhood in High River, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods over a week earlier. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • A residents cleans up his home in High River, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods over a week earlier. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Water floods a neighborhood in High River, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods over a week earlier. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Waters flood a neighborhood in High River, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Heaps of damaged goods pile up on High River streets, as residents are finally allowed to return.

  • Resident Christine Doefel wipes away tears as she leaves a reception centre after getting entry permits and clean-up kits from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • A Red Cross volunteer helps residents as they leaves a reception centre after getting an entry permit and a clean-up kit from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Residents Christine Doefel, left, and her daughter Brooklynn Carney, embrace as the leave a reception centre after getting entry permits and clean-up kits from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Residents leave a reception centre after getting entry permits and clean-up kits from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Residents embrace as they leave a reception centre after getting an entry permit and a clean-up kit from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • A residents leaves a reception centre after getting an entry permit and a clean-up kit from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Residents leave a reception centre after get entry permits and clean-up kits from the Red Cross in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Residents wait in line to get entry permits to the flooded town of High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. The Alberta government is letting people who live in High River to return to their homes in stages after being forced out by floods more than a week ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • Al Moore, a 42-year-resident of High River, listens to the radio broadcast on Friday, June 28, 2013 of the new re-entry plan for evacuees northwest of High River, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jordan Verlage

  • The Calgary flood as seen from space.

  • The Calgary flood as seen from space compared with a before-and-after photo.

  • Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, middle, and Calgary Stampeders president Gord Norrie, 2nd right, and others during pregame cerimonies honoring Alberta Flood Relief first responders and find raising efforts prior to CFL action between Calgary and BC in Calgary, Alberta on Friday, June 28, 2013. (CFL PHOTO - Larry MacDougal)

  • Calgary Stampeders Jon Cornish leaps with the ball during second half CFL action against the BC Lions in Calgary, Alberta on Friday, June 28, 2013. Cornish pledged $2,000 to Alberta flood relief immediately following the game. (CFL PHOTO - Larry MacDougal)

  • Cleanup continues on the Calgary Stampede grounds one week after major flooding in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday, June 27, 2013. The Elbow River flows by on to top and left, Saddledome is situated lower right and the chuckwagon track and rodeo grounds are top.

  • This photo provided by Transportation Safety Board shows a train with derailed tankers at the Bonny Brook bridge in Calgary, Alberta Canada on Thursday, June 27, 2013. The City of Calgary says conditions have stabilized at the site of the bridge collapse that caused six cars to derail and start sinking into the Bow River. Canadian Pacific Railway says five of the cars are carrying a petroleum product used to dilute raw oilsands bitumen. The city's acting fire chief has said crews are stringing a cable through the railcars and securing it to bulldozers on land. The industrial area near the bridge has been evacuated and booms are being deployed down river in case of any spills. There are no homes nearby, but several business are effected. (AP Photo/Transportation Safety Board via The Canadian Press)

  • Monica West carries damaged goods out of a souvenir shop as clean-up crews work at the Calgary Zoo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. Calgary Zoo staff risked their lives over the weekend to stop a hippo from escaping into the swollen Bow River. Director of animal care, conservation and research, Jake Veasey, says flood waters in the hippos' enclosure rose high enough during the floods for the dangerous herbivores to swim out. One hippo named Lobi was feeling particularly adventurous and was moving freely around the African Savannah building. Veasey had to break a window to get into the building and he swam in the muddy flood waters to find the animal. Zoo staff used cinder blocks and construction equipment to block Lobi inside the building. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • A muddied research book dries as clean-up crews work at the Calgary Zoo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. Calgary Zoo staff risked their lives over the weekend to stop a hippo from escaping into the swollen Bow River. Director of animal care, conservation and research, Jake Veasey, says flood waters in the hippos' enclosure rose high enough during the floods for the dangerous herbivores to swim out. One hippo named Lobi was feeling particularly adventurous and was moving freely around the African Savannah building. Veasey had to break a window to get into the building and he swam in the muddy flood waters to find the animal. Zoo staff used cinder blocks and construction equipment to block Lobi inside the building. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • A soldier walks by a pile of speedboats in High River, Alberta on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. High River was hit by a devastating flood on June 20 which caused a mass evacuation of the entire town although some residents chose to defy the order. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from the floods. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jordan Verlage)

  • A road crew foreman surveys the washed-out lanes of northbound MacLeod Trail in Calgary, Alta., Monday, June 24, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Clean-up crews work at the Calgary Zoo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. Calgary Zoo staff risked their lives over the weekend to stop a hippo from escaping into the swollen Bow River. Director of animal care, conservation and research, Jake Veasey, says flood waters in the hippos' enclosure rose high enough during the floods for the dangerous herbivores to swim out. One hippo named Lobi was feeling particularly adventurous and was moving freely around the African Savannah building. Veasey had to break a window to get into the building and he swam in the muddy flood waters to find the animal. Zoo staff used cinder blocks and construction equipment to block Lobi inside the building. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Wreckage lies along Center Street in High River, Alberta on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. High River was hit by a devastating flood on June 20 which caused a mass evacuation of the entire town although some residents chose to defy the order. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from the floods. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jordan Verlage)

  • Calgary firefighters check on homes as residents and volunteers are in clean up mode in the community of Bowness as most of the homes have been pumped out with still some remaining submerged in water in Calgary, Alberta, on Monday, June 24, 2013. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • A road crew foreman surveys the washed-out lanes of northbound MacLeod Trail in Calgary, Alta., Monday, June 24, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Thaya Gallant

    Thaya Gallant helps with the flood clean-up at a law office in Calgary, Alta., Monday, June 24, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuations across Southern Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

  • Calgary firefighters check on home as residents and volunteers are in clean up mode in the community of Bowness as most of the homes have been pumped out with still some remaining submerged in water in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, June 24, 2013. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • People watch as the river peaks, causing flooding in Medicine hat, Alta., on Monday, June 24, 2013. Officials in Medicine Hat said Monday they believe water levels on the South Saskatchewan River have peaked and that flooding won't be as severe as initially feared. Roughly 10,000 people were evacuated as the city of 60,000 prepared for the surge of water that swamped Calgary and surrounding areas last week. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Residents and volunteers are in clean up mode in the community of Bowness as most of the homes have been pumped out with still some remaining submerged in water in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, June 24, 2013. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Lisa Nguyen

    Resident Lisa Nguyen, right, cleans of the mud from photographs and negatives as volunteer Jacinta Babbitt, left, shows a clean picture of Nguyen when she was younger during flood clean up in the community of Bowness in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, June 24, 2013. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Residents and volunteers are in flood clean up mode in the community of Bowness in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, June 24, 2013. Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

  • Daniel Boddy, nine, helps with the clean-up work as hose lines from pumps drain water from flooded basement in the Bridgeland neighborhood in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • Daniel Boddy, nine, helps with the clean-up work as hose lines from pumps drain water from flooded basement in the Bridgeland neighborhood in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • A boy crosses a silt covered street in Chinatown as clean-up crews work in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • People place sand bags as the river rises rapidly and begins flooding in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Homeowner Glenn Tibbles looks at the damage done by floodwaters to his home near downtown Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. About 65,000 residents of Calgary were being allowed to return to their homes Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

  • Cpl. Brett Martens from CFB Edmonton helps a resident clear out damaged debris from their home near downtown Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. About 65,000 residents of Calgary were being allowed to return to their homes Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

  • A home is inundated with floodwaters on the Siksika First Nation, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Alberta's municipal affairs minister says 27 communities are under a state of emergency as some areas begin to recover from flooding while others are still bracing for it.

  • People watch as the river rises rapidly and begins flooding in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Sunday, June 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

  • Floodwaters inundate homes in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Alberta's municipal affairs minister says 27 communities are under a state of emergency as some areas begin to recover from flooding while others are still bracing for it.


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Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith tweeted this photo of the rising waters of the Highwood River.

"This is the view of the bridge over the Highwood. Normally there is a couple metres clearance below it. #ableg #wrp"

southern alberta flooding

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You can find updates on various communities and their flood status at Alberta Emergency Alert http://www.emergencyalert.alberta.ca/

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Cougar Creek in Canmore is completely overrun by floods. High River, Black Diamond and Calgary are also facing quickly rising water levels. The latest on evacuations and warnings can be found in our story.

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From the Alberta Emergency Alert:

All residents in north west, south west and north east High River are under mandatory evacuation. Crews are working to reach residents in the Vista Mirage area. Information will be posted on the High River website at www.highriver.ca.

Evacuate immediately. Please go to Highwood High School on 12th Ave where the emergency evacuation centre has been opened.

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From Alberta Emergency Alert:

There is localized flooding in Town, beginning near the Foothills Lions Campground. Hwy 22 is closed near that location. Residents west of 1st St SW are being evacuated to the Reception Centre (Oilfields Arena). Power outages may follow. The Water Treatment Plant has been shut down due to flood & safety concerns. Residents are requested to conserve water.

Door to door notification of the evacuation is taking place. Donations of towels and blankets can be made at the Arena. Food donations may be required later in the day. The town is currently investigating sources of bottled water. More information.

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From the City of Calgary:

The decision was made by Deputy Mayor Richard Pootmans and Ald. John Mar to declare a SOLE based on the potential severity of the incoming high river flows in conjunction with expected heavy rainfall. The City of Calgary has begun to implement its flood response plans with the deployment of sandbags and temporary dams at key locations to protect property and infrastructure. The City is working to ensure the safety of Calgarians and asks for their patience and cooperation during this time. Citizens are reminded to: · Stay away from rivers and creeks as the water is rising and moving quickly, and banks may be unstable. · Avoid storm water ponds and storm drains, and do not let children play near them. · Do not drive through flooded areas such as underpasses. · If you experience basement seepage or overland flooding, call 3-1-1 to report. · If you or someone else is in imminent danger, call 9-1-1. Remember that 9-1-1 is for emergencies only; please use 3-1-1 for reporting non-emergency issues.

· Monitor local media and City of Calgary messages. For more information on flooding, visit calgary.ca/flooding.

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cougar creek

Photo: Wade Graham, Facebook

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Cougar Creek threatens homes with its mighty surge.

Video: Wade Graham, Facebook

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cougar creek canmore

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From Alberta Emergency Alerts:

There is a hazardous materials release threatening life and the environment. An sour gas pipeline rupture has caused a release of H2S in the Town of Turner Valley. Residents are ordered to protect in place. Emergency crews have evacuated the affected areas and will continue to monitor.

Instructions:

Move indoors and stay indoors. Prepare for possible evacuation. Seek medical attention if you experience breathing difficulties. Follow the directions of local authorities.

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"The City of Calgary has declared a state of emergency as expected heavy rainfall combined with the potential of incoming high river flows could become severe.

The city is implementing its flood response plan with the deployment of sandbags and temporary dams to protect property and infrastructure.

Calgarians are advised to stay away from rivers and creeks as rising water may makes banks unstable.

Driving through flooded areas such as underpasses or children playing near storm water ponds and drains should also be avoided."

More here.

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cougar creek

Photo credit: Lauren Wheeler

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Turner Valley, a community southwest of Calgary, was placed under an emergency alert Thursday after a sour gas pipeline ruptured. The alert urged people to move indoors and to prepare for a possible evacuation.

What is sour gas, exactly, and what's the harm? Read more here.

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Our friends up the hill got in a bit of a pickle today when they headed to Canmore to cover the flooding.

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The Town of High River is now under an emergency evacuation alert. There is extremely dangerous and rapid flooding occurring in High River. Authorities are warning residents to move to high ground.

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There is a threat of extremely dangerous and rapid flooding in the County of Lethbridge. The County of Lethbridge declared a local state of emergency at 11:10 a.m. and issued an evacuation order for residents living in the Oldman River valley.

An evacuee reception centre is at the County Administration building at #100, 905 4th Avenue South downtown.

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