06/26/2013 06:30 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT

High River Flooding: Residents Can Return Home In Matter Of Days, Not Weeks, Say Officials

The Alberta government says it will take some time before people can return to their homes in High River.

Rick Fraser, the government member appointed to look after High River, said it will be a "matter of days, not weeks" before people can return. Many residents of the town have expressed frustration with the pace of recovery efforts.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Fraser said that once the town is safe, there will be a staged re-entry. Crews are still working to restore basic services, he said, to rid the community of contaminated standing water and to make things safe.

High River lacks both power and sewage treatment, and there is a threat of contamination from standing water throughout the town and no businesses or public services are in operation.

About 13,000 residents of the town have been out of their homes under a mandatory evacuation order issued last Thursday after the Highwood River burst its banks and flooded large parts of the town. An estimated 300 High River residents have defied the evacuation order and remained in their homes.

Fraser also announced that each evacuee will get a preloaded debit card to help with expenses. Adults are to get $1,250 and children will receive $500. The distribution of the cards to evacuees will begin Thursday.

Those who have defied the evacuation order and remained in their homes, however, will not be eligible for the debit cards until they leave, Fraser said.

Cleanup efforts continue

Town employees, contractors, the military and emergency workers are working to pump water out of neighbourhoods, clear roads and get utilities and sewers working.

The RCMP underwater recovery team is still making dives in flooded buildings in High River. "[We are] still concerned there may be more fatalities," said Insp. Garrett Woolsey.

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