06/21/2013 11:24 EDT | Updated 08/21/2013 05:12 EDT

High River Flooding 2013: Residents Flee With Clothes On Their Back, Pets (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

HIGH RIVER, Alta. - As Cheyenne Lowry, 18, waited to be rescued from rising floodwaters in High River, Alta., she frantically phoned her father.

"I said if helicopters don't come, I love you," Lowry said Friday from the Red Cross evacuation centre in nearby Blackie, about 40 km south of Calgary.

"I'll try to see you when I see you. I was bawling ... it was just disaster."

When the Highwood River started swelling, Lowry moved as many belongings as possible to the top floor of her brother's house, where she had been living for a few months. But as water started lapping at the front door, she put on flip flops and rushed out with only the clothes on her back.

She and her friends fled to a house on what they thought was higher ground, but ended up trapped.

"They tried to get a helicopter to us, but they had to get everyone on their roofs first. They tried to get boats to us, but the boats kept getting taken away in the current," she said.

"It was scary."

Lowry still didn't know on Friday evening where most of her friends were, or what had become of her truck.

High River has been one of the communities hit hardest by the raging waters. Roads and bridges have been swamped, police have cut off access to most of the town and helicopters have been circling overhead. Cars lie submerged in water, abandoned. Some backhoes have been working in vain to push water back from houses.

Lowry said she and her friends watched in horror as someone in a Honda Civic tried to cross a flooded bridge, only to get swept away by the current.

"He was stuck on a tree and he was still in his vehicle," she said. "I started crying because there is nothing you can really do to help somebody that's stuck on a tree in this water that you can't get to."

She saw other cars, houses and trailers sweep past. People in boats who tried to rescue residents with health issues floundered against the currents. One boat's engine cut out and it started to take on water.

Lowry and more than 200 others have taken refuge in the evacuation centre — which is also welcoming pets. Children have been playing around the cots on the floor while members of the High River Hutterite colony swept the stairs and mopped the floors.

Many volunteers are evacuees themselves and have no idea if they still have houses.

Other town residents have crowded into the homes of friends and relatives on higher ground.

Marty Ritz is one of the lucky ones. His house has stayed dry and he has opened his doors to 18 people who were forced from their homes.

"We're putting them up in different bedrooms, and they're sleeping in the living room," Ritz said Friday. "Everybody's getting together to do the cooking. It's nice when you can help."

Ritz spent part of the day pumping out his friend's basement, where the water was more than a metre deep. That house usually sits on the edge of a golf course. Now it is perched beside a lake, with water spilling over the sidewalk into roads navigable only by boats.

"We've lived here since 1972 and we've never had one (like this) — 1995 and 2005 were the worst two and they weren't even anything close to this," Ritz said. "This is exponential compared to what we're used to dealing with."

Lowry said she feels uplifted by how the community is coming together to cope.

"I feel proud in a way, because everyone is here helping," she said during a break from sorting donated clothing.

"I'm really happy and proud to see that everyone is actually doing something about it."

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