07/18/2013 09:08 EDT | Updated 09/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Flood-Ravaged Alberta Continues To Rebuild A Month Later

It has been four weeks since floodwaters devastated several communities around southern Alberta in one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit the province.

It all started with a deluge of heavy rainfall June 20 that caused disastrous levels of flooding that claimed the lives of four people, including an elderly Calgary woman who drowned in her home inside an evacuation area.

Many of those affected are now looking back on the month that was and are starting to rebuild.

But some others say they're having a tough time finding contractors and equipment and others are still waiting for word on compensation from insurance companies and the province.

The provincial government announced its long-term flood recovery plan Thursday.

“We know this work will take years — not weeks or months — and we will be there to support communities in their renewal efforts over the long term,” said Premier Alison Redford in a release.

Prepared by the Flood Recovery Task Force, the plan looks to focus on four areas: financial support, repairing infrastructure, mitigating long-term environmental impacts and nurturing economic growth through reinvestments.

The province says roughly 55,000 square kilometres were directly impacted by the flooding, and more than 100,000 people were forced out of more than 10,000 homes.

Damaged infrastructure includes water treatment facilities, hospitals, schools, bridges, roads, businesses and recreation sites.

The province says the scale and impacts of the flooding are unprecedented in Alberta, and resulted in the first state of provincial emergency to ever be declared in Canada.

Disaster recovery payments

Days after the flood waters hit Calgary and southern Alberta, the province announced $1 billion in financial help.

But a month later it's still unclear how much, if any, of that money has been spent.

The province pledged up to $10,000 for flood victims to rebuild homes, and 300 cheques have gone out. The average payment has been $7,200 per applicant.

The province has spent $2 million on this program to date, and that number continues to grow daily.

There are two registration centres open for flood victims to apply for disaster recovery payments: one in Calgary and one in HIgh River, which will be open until July 25.

The government will release more information on how people can apply for funding after that.

The province says advance payments will be made as soon as applicants are able to provide the required documents.

Tim Wilson with Municipal Affairs says the government is aiming at a processing time of seven to 14 days, but every homeowner's situation is different.

The amount awarded will depend on the building, square footage and what goods were lost.

Premier Redford also said earlier this month there could be more disaster recovery payments in the future depending on the applicant's situation.

Homeowners, renters and business owners are eligible for disaster recovery for uninsured damages caused by overland flooding and seepage.

Kim Myers and Mike Eberhard said they struggled to buy their dream house in the Calgary community of Bowness, which sits by the Bow River, but it was almost condemned and now sits gutted.

"A rough estimate, we're maybe looking at a half million [dollars] just to get back where we were kind of back where we were," said Myers.

The couple was first in line as the province began applications for its disaster recovery program.

"We just want some help to rebuild,” Eberhard said.

They couple is facing staggering costs, and are grateful for any help.

"There's bills everywhere … it's hard to even count,” said Myers. “But I think the initial schwack of money — the debit cards and the ten thousand dollars or whatever — we're going to get, it's probably gone."

But Alberta’s opposition Wildrose Party proposes a cap be put on compensation, so owners of multimillion-dollar homes only receive assistance for the cost of a normal home.

The Wildrose also criticized the government for using outdated flood plain maps and for not taking steps after the 2005 floods to lessen the impact of the next flooding event.

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith said major mitigation efforts — such as a massive spillway in southern Alberta — should be undertaken.

It will be several weeks before the City of Calgary knows the cost of damage from last month's flood.

Gordon Stewart, the director of recovery operations, says they're still assessing the damage and the early cost prediction of $256 million is likely to change.

“Right now, we're doing another run through,” he said. “We know that number won't go down as we're finding more and more things and seeing some of the stuff that's been uncovered. It will go up.”

Stewart says officials should have a firm figure to present to the city by the fall.

He says there's no doubt it will affect the city's capital plans and budget, but he says it's too soon to say what projects will specifically be affected.

The city is not going ahead with plans to build two temporary housing camps for Calgarians hit by the flood.

Stewart says there are 137 Calgarians who still can't go home, but he says plans are in the works to find a solution for them.

“Things can change,” he said.

“Over time, if people are in places that they can't maintain for the long time, they might be coming to us.”

The city has provided land to the province, which has set up a temporary housing camp in the southeast for flood victims from High River.

Calgary resident Cody Chatfield is repairing his flooded home in Bowness by himself, but considers himself lucky.

A couple of homes in the area have already been demolished because they were too damaged to repair.

"There are people that aren't back in their houses and have houses that are write-offs,” he said.

“They're overwhelmed by it. They don't know if they're getting insurance or been denied insurance. They don't know what to expect from the province.”

Today the Bow River flows calmly by Tony and Louise Pietrovigo's backyard in Bowness — a far cry from four weeks ago when the home they've live in for 35 years filled with water.

"The blink of an eye it's gone. I mean it's gone," said Tony.

While they found a contractor right away and their home can be saved, the couple says the last month is catching up with them.

"I'm a pretty strong cookie,” said Louise. “I have my moments, I've had many breakdowns, but I’m OK now."

Still after everything, Tony says the community will move on.

"It takes … disasters like this for people, communities to get together, and then you really see how strong you are."

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