06/20/2013 20:26 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Calgary flooding evacuation orders expanded

Calgary officials expanded evacuation orders and opened more emergency shelters Thursday night amid concerns about rising water levels. The evacuation orders have grown to cover nearly 20 neighbourhoods, and up to 100,000 people could be affected.

Calgary is dealing with swollen riverbanks and city officials are worried it could worsen. Meanwhile, thousands of people in southern Alberta communities like Canmore and High River have also been forced out of their homes by raging water.

- Social media: Southern Alberta reacts to massive flooding.

- Live blog: Alberta flooding live updates.

- Read:Rain-deluged Canmore, Alta., in state of emergency.

- Map: Calgary neighbourhoods affected.

- List of Alberta emergency contacts.

"It's really high right now," Doug McKeague said as he stood by a raging river in Bragg Creek. "There's a lot of people who are going to be hurting because of it.

In Calgary, many neighbourhoods are shut even to local traffic. The only movement allowed is people heading out of the area, the city says.

The evacuation orders cover the communities of Mission, Elbow Park, Stanley Park, Roxboro, Rideau, Discovery Ridge, Victoria Park, Erlton, Cliff Bungalow, Sunnyside, Bowness, Inglewood, Elboya, Bonnybrook, Westmount, Cliff Bungalow, Eau Claire, Downtown East Village, Montgomery and Chinatown.

In Bowness, CBC's Kristina Barnes, said water levels were high, nearing the top of the bridge. Police were driving along the bridge with a loud-speaker, urging people to stay away.

You can find maps of evacuated areas here.

The Deer Run and Riverbend neighbourhoods will be evacuated by midnight local time, officials said, and the rest of downtown is expected to be evacuated overnight.

Officials ask that people notify their neighbours and mark an X on their front doors after they've left to indicate the house is empty and residents are safe.

People are being urged to stay away from river banks as water levels rise. The rivers are expected to crest between midnight and 2 a.m. MT.

The city is also asking Calgarians to avoid downtown tonight and tomorrow if they can.

Residents are encouraged to find shelter with family or friends for at least the next 72 hours. Reception at Southland Leisure Centre and Acadia Recreation Complex centres have been set up for residents who cannot find alternate accommodations.

Those reception centres are located at Southland Leisure Centre and Acadia Recreation Complex.

People should bring identification, prescription medications and other critical personal items with them.

Calgary Transit and Access Calgary are on standby to help residents who cannot leave on their own.

Those requiring assistance are asked to identify themselves to emergency responders going door-to-door.

People with pets are encouraged to leave them with family or friends. If that option is not available, people can take their pets to the Animal Service Centre.

The city of Red Deer was also on alert.

"A local state of emergency was declared at 8 p.m. tonight following a flood warning that was issued upon receiving notice that Alberta Environment is to release a significant amount of water from the Dickson Dam," Red Deer said in a statement.

Worse flooding than 2005

Officials in Calgary have warned residents to brace for flooding worse than that experienced in 2005.

The city held a press conference Thursday after declaring a state of emergency in anticipation of heavy flows from the Elbow and Bow rivers reaching the city.

"The data we have currently would indicate that we will probably see water come over the top of the Glenmore Dam, at a flow rate that probably exceeds that of 2005," said Bruce Burrell, director of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency said earlier Thursday.

The city has also opened its Emergency Operations Centre, where key personnel from city business units and external groups like Enmax, Atco and Alberta Health Services gather to support front-line responders.

It is the city's multi-agency command centre for large scale emergencies.

The decision was made based on the potential severity of incoming high river flows in combination with expected heavy rainfall.

The city has begun to implement its flood response plans and is deploying sandbags and temporary dams at key locations.

"We do know that there are going to have to be evacuations, that areas are going to have flooding occur within the city of Calgary," said Burrell. "We know that that is not going to happen until probably late tonight, towards the early morning."

City officials are reminding people to stay away from rivers and creeks as the banks may be unstable because of rising water. Residents are also being cautioned to avoid storm water ponds and to keep children away from these areas.

Anyone experiencing basement flooding is asked to call 311.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is returning early from an economic development trip to Ontario.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said she plans to visit the areas affected by flooding Friday.

“I’ve been following today’s events with great concern, and my heart goes out to the many Albertans who have been evacuated due to the floods that are affecting much of southern and central Alberta today,” she said in a release.

“I strongly encourage everyone to follow the public safety orders of their municipalities. If you are being ordered to evacuate, please do so for your own safety.”

State of emergency declared in Canmore

Meanwhile, heavy rain also prompted officials in the mountain town of Canmore, about 100 kilometres west of Calgary, to declare a local state of emergency after the banks of a creek that runs through the community became unstable.

About 40 homes were evacuated at 2 a.m. MT on Thursday when the banks of Cougar Creek were deemed unstable, Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said.

The evacuees were taken in at the town’s civic centre and at two local hotels.

Other residents are being alerted to be ready to move if necessary.

Borrowman told CBC News Thursday evening that it was the most extreme flooding situation he's seen in 40 years.

"We've lost 15-20 homes," he said

The mayor of the mountain community urged people not to try to come to the area, since flooding was affecting highways. "It's a very serious disaster here," he told CBC's Ian Hanomansing.

He said that through most of the day even air access into the community was difficult because visibility was so poor for helicopter flights.

Borrowman said he was "expecting another very stressful night of coping with emergencies" as the flooding continued.

High River, about 70 kilometres south of Calgary, also declared a state of emergency early Thursday morning after the Highwood River started overflowing its banks.

In High River, rescuers used helicopters, boats, and even some combines to get to people who needed to be moved.

Cellphone service and landline service in the area was spotty, CBC's Briar Stewart reported, making the situation more difficult in the community of roughly 12,000.

"People were really surprised at just how fast the water moved in," Stewart said. "We're told that at one point 150 people were stranded, many of them on their roof, trying to wave in the helicopters in the air to get their attention."

All homes and businesses in the hamlet of Bragg Creek, 44 kilometres west of Calgary on the edge of Kananaskis Country, were ordered evacuated as the Elbow River surges over its banks. Power to the area has been shut off.

Just downstream, residents of the townsite of Redwood Meadows were told they should leave their homes and use northbound Highway 22 to get out of the area. Townsite administration manager Pat Evans said the water is higher than it was during the last big flood in 1995.

In southwest Alberta, parts of the Crowsnest Pass are being evacuated because of high water levels.

Sour gas well rupture

In Turner Valley, southwest of Calgary, a sour gas wellhead ruptured at the same time as the town dealt with fast-rising flood waters in the Sheep River.

Turner Valley Coun. Barry Williamson said the pipeline was struck by river debris, adding that an evacuation was ordered for residences in the area.

The rupture caused a release of sour gas containing hydrogen sulfide — a colourless, flammable gas that smells like rotten eggs — but officials have said the risk is now contained. Air quality monitoring at the point of the rupture isn't detecting dangerous sour gas levels.