ALBERTA
12/19/2013 06:42 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

The Alberta Flood, HuffPost Alberta's Story Of The Year

The year 2013 has the potential to do what few years in the recent past have done --­ to shape the future of the province.

The heat's been turned up on the energy sector as it labours to get approval for three unpopular but economically vital pipelines and address environmental concerns. Albertans also went to the polls this year to elect municipal leaders and overwhelmingly chose young, progressive, urban leaders.

But it's the Alberta flood that has the biggest potential to change the province.

The disaster, which has already been named the costliest in Canadian history, rocked the political establishment, destroyed infrastructure and raised serious questions about Alberta's political priorities and how -- or even if ­-- growth is planned in the province.

But it is for other, less obvious reasons that we at The Huffington Post Alberta have chosen the flood as the story of the year.

It's in what the flood has taught us as Albertans, as neighbours, that we find the true value in the story of the June flood.

Here's what we learned:

1. WE LEARNED THAT... Alberta's renowned western hospitality and its "look after your neighbour" attitude are still strong, despite a rapidly expanding economy and population.

As the waters receded, people came to the rescue of their neighbours and helped each other clean up and reclaim their homes. Residents from non-affected areas swarmed communities in need. Calgary buses carrying volunteers to hardest-hit High River were filled to capacity, day in and day out.

Clothes and food drives spontaneously sprung up in neighbourhoods all over the province. And when the immediacy of the disaster had finally passed, Albertans openly grieved for each other.

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Photo gallery Calgary Flood Volunteers Portraits See Gallery

2. WE LEARNED THAT... those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Reports and strategies published following the 2005 flood -- then called a "one in 100 years flood" -- were not acted on or barely put into practice.

Following the 2005 event, there was great motivation to prepare the province before the next big one struck. But as time wore on and memories faded, the drive diminished. In the end, very little was done and the next flood that hit was bigger than any other in Alberta's recorded history.

"We are heading into possibly another $5 billion in (flood) costs, not to mention the negative effects on the economy and the disruption of the lives of Albertans," said Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.

3. WE LEARNED THAT... we ignore known threats to our great peril. We knew the catastrophic flood was coming but did precious little to prepare for it.

A study by consultants at Golder Associates Ltd. predicted with uncanny accuracy the destruction that besieged Calgary and area. The report, which was submitted to the province in 2012, was not made public by the Alberta government because it believed it to be too technical for public consumption.

Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said his heart sank when he read the report.

"It felt rather bizarre reading it, almost like it was a road map for what we saw happen in the city this spring. It was almost eerie," he said.

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Photo gallery Alberta Floods From Above See Gallery

4. WE LEARNED THAT... despite the acrimonious tone of politics in 2013, there is a threshold that politicians won't cross.

Within a couple of weeks of the flood, the leaders of all the main federal parties made their way to Alberta to assess the damage and to provide moral support. Not one of the leaders politicized the situation, although the opportunities were plenty.

"I honestly believe the federal government is doing everything that it can right now and we've got to continue doing that. They'll have our full support. There are times when we will talk partisan politics," said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in High River.

"This isn't one of them."

5. WE LEARNED... that we are not immune to climate change. And we learned the hard way.

The international consensus is that climate change is real. There are still some who argue the cause of it but there are few who believe our climate is the same as it was a few decades ago. The world has witnessed how unprecedented hurricanes have destroyed New Orleans and paralyzed New York.

Floods in Alberta are coming more often and with greater intensity, and the last one is as good an illustration as one can get of the world's new climate reality.

"And so my sense is that if we look to the past, it won't give us the guidance to the future. We have to recognize the climate is changing and that we have to do things differently and people who do things differently will come out winners," said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips shortly after the flood.

6. WE LEARNED THAT... in times of emergencies, people still need a leader to rally around. And every now and then, to remind us how ridiculous we're being.

And we learned that through Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. As southern Albertans mobilized to help their neighbours and hungered for information, it was Calgary's mayor who filled the void and served as part moral compass, part cheerleader, while at the same time being all parts civic leader.

Nenshi was a mainstay at the city's Emergency Operations Centre, his tired mug was a staple at news conferences, meetings and on Twitter. He kept Calgarians apprised on what areas to avoid, who needed help and how to assist. Most memorably, he reminded people not to be idiots and get out of the rivers, off threatened bridges, away from river banks and to look after one another.

And people loved him for it.

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Photo gallery Calgary Tries To Make Nenshi Nap See Gallery

7. WE LEARNED THAT... disaster centres and plans in southern Alberta work.

Agencies such as Alberta Emergency Management, police, fire departments and Calgary's secretive Emergency Operations Centre all mobilized quickly and in orchestrated fashion to help Albertans in distress. They came to the aid of stranded residents and ensured that those who needed it were evacuated safely.

There are many questions about what the different levels of government should have done to prevent the disaster. But there have been few concerns about the way all these agencies behaved during and after the flood.

8. WE LEARNED... the true devastating power of something as benign as rain.

We learned it will cost an estimated five billion dollars to undo the destruction wreaked by the flood. We learned that approximately 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. And that we lost 7.5 million hours of work during the floods.

We learned the flood, when all figures are taken into account, will be the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

And we learned there are a few million Albertans who will stand up for one another.

Photo gallery Alberta Flood Stats: Two Months Later See Gallery