06/25/2013 07:06 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Medicine Hat Flooding: Some Evacuees Go Home; Warned To Prepare Mentally For Damage

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - Janice Tidy stood waiting anxiously Tuesday, wondering what damage the swollen South Saskatchewan River had wreaked on her idyllic home in southeastern Alberta.

"If it's sewer, then you can't go into your home, you can't stay," said an emotional Tidy.

"We're hopeful. My husband did a really good job blocking things in the basement, so we're hopeful."

Tidy's home is on a quiet street in Medicine Hat, Alta., across from a park and the river. Her front porch is normally a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the view.

But like some 10,000 other Medicine Hat residents, Tidy was forced from her home when the river spilled its banks.

Tidy gathered a few valuables, her brother flew in from Ottawa to help move furniture to a higher floor, and then she and her husband left Friday evening as the rushing water started to lap a berm on the street.

City officials said the river reached a record high when it crested early Monday.

The flood waters started to go down quickly and by Tuesday, Medicine Hat were officials were allowing some of the evacuees to return home — if their properties passed inspection. Officials warned that even if streets appeared dry, basements could be full of water or sewage.

Ron Robinson, emergency measures director for the city of more than 60,000, tried to mute expectations.

"Be prepared to see some extraordinary sights," said Robinson. "Certainly our hearts go out to those people who are going to see a lot of damage. Just be prepared mentally to accept that."

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About 60 homes in an area known as Harlow, where Tidy lives, were the first inspected Tuesday. Residents were told to wait in front of their homes — not to go inside — and an inspection team would be by.

"Can we follow you?," she asked the inspector when he headed into her home. No, she was told.

The inspector emerged a short time later with news. There's some carpet damage and a bit of a mud slurry in the furnace room, but "you're good to go," Tidy was told.

The carpet squished under Tidy's feet as she walked in her basement.

"It's not the worst thing. We're very fortunate. I mean we had to leave some stuff down here...but the stuff that was left down here, none of our furniture's damaged," said Tidy.

"I'm just really relieved, really relieved."

Robinson said all 3,800 homes in the evacuation zone will be inspected.

Of those seen Tuesday, he said only about 10 per cent are uninhabitable because of a slurry of mud, water and sewage. But Robinson also noted that crews are working from the least impacted to the most impacted areas, so the number of uninhabitable homes will go up.

"We're trying to be realistic about this. Our hope of course is always high, but unrealistic expectation doesn't get us anywhere," he said.