Storm update: First priority for Red Deer is to get power fully restored: Mayor Veer

‘We will have significant tree replacement’: city manager

As Red Deer begins to find its way out of Tuesday evening’s super windstorm that caused major damage and created a state of emergency, some of the more heavily hit areas have been identified.

The “city of trees” took a heavy blow during the short-lived but severe storm that caused widespread power outages and significant property damage.

The Lions Campground on Riverside Drive was the most damaged City of Red Deer property, with hundreds of trees destroyed by winds that reached 111 km/h. The Village Mall on the north side of the city took a big hit, including the TD Bank building. The north Wal-Mart’s garden centre area was also damaged.

For the most part, much of the damage pertained to large downed trees and the string wind that peeled shingles and other material off buildings. At least 15 power lines came down with trees on them, or the wind snapped power poles like twigs, especially adjacent to East Vanier on the southeast side of the city.

Mayor Tara Veer said during a 9 a.m. press conference Wednesday that the Emergency Management Committee of council was called in and a state of emergency was declared at 11:47 p.m. Tuesday because of the severity of damage.

The wind storm, which hit just before 7 p.m., saw tree after large tree toppled onto power lines, across roadways and even onto some homes as the wind sheered through the city.

Environment Canada called the weather event a straight-line wind, which is not an unusual offshoot of severe thunderstorms. Prior to the calamity, there were many warnings from Environment Canada about the potential for severe weather. Large thunderheads could be seen to the north of Red Deer in the afternoon.

The windstorm settled down within about an hour, but it took even less than that for the city to realize it had a major event and all hands on deck were mobilized.

Just how much damage and how long it will take to restore the city to normal has yet to be determined, however the state of emergency is for one week at least.

Veer said there would be potential delays in areas still without power, and crews were continuing to make their way around the city to clean up areas that were affected.

At one stage, about 35 per cent of the city was without power. That has since improved to about 10 per cent.

“We are above all very grateful that there has been no reported loss of life,” Veer said. “The wind was incredibly strong last night but we know our community is stronger.”

One injury was reported to have occurred in the Lions Campground but that person made their own way to Red Deer Regional Hospital for treatment, and was soon released.

Many residents, businesses and property owners have been affected by the storm and there were still people without power and businesses closed as a result, Veer said.

The main priority Wednesday was power restoration. The city has been calling in mutual aid as needed, and the provincial government is on standby, Veer said. The city expected to have a better sense on whether provincial resources are needed later on Wednesday.

“In the days and weeks to come we are really a city in a park, and we are substantially treed both on private and public property, so we do anticipate it will take awhile to assess the level of damage because many of the trees that were felled are fairly high calibre,” Veer said.

People have been out helping out each other with tree and other debris clearing. “This is what we know about our community, the Red Deer that we know and love. People coming together and supporting each other, when they need each other the most,” Veer said.

The city’s 911 call centre was overwhelmed with calls after the storm hit, and while most of the calls were likely valid because of live power lines on the ground and trees creating precarious situations, the city is reminding the public to only call the number for emergencies.

The public is asked to call 403-342-8111 to report downed trees, power outages or anything else related to the state of emergency.

Like many long-time residents, city manager Craig Curtis said the storm didn’t compare with any he’s ever seen in before in Red Deer.

“When we lose our tree canopy, this is a city of trees … we will have significant tree replacement,” Curtis said.

It was the third major storm the city has seen since May, and city crews have been kept busy cleaning up tree debris after each one. But Tuesday’s storm far exceeded any earlier damages. The last time city declared a state of local emergency was also on June 20 — in 2013 during flooding.

Public Works, Parks, EMS, with assistance from Penhold and County and RCMP all collaborated during the storm and its aftermath to ensure safety of residents.

Karen Mann, City of Red Deer Emergency Manager said Vanier East may be without power for 24 hours. All main roads were open with the exception of a small section of Ross Street at 43rd Street.

The entire Waskasoo Park system is closed except for River Bend Golf and Country Club, Discovery Canyon, the Oxbows off-leash dog park, Great Chief Park and Bower Ponds.

“If you happen to see a downed power line, please exercise extreme caution. Keep a safe distance until you have the ability to report this power line,” Mann said. Anyone who smells gas should leave their home or business immediately and call 911.

Buses are running normally. Gateway Mountview School and Parkland schools were closed Wednesday but all other ones were open.

Residents are responsible for cleaning up trees on their property and the city is encouraging people to contact a certified arborist. To report property damage, people should contact their insurance provider, Mann said.

The north snow storage facility (6859 Edgar Industrial Drive) is open to collect large branches that have fallen on residential properties. Drop off is free and the facility is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Garbage, sod, or other yard waste material will not be accepted at this site.

The city said it’s website — reddeer.ca — will continue to be updated.

barr@reddeeradvocate.com

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