Mayor recalls response to southern Alberta’s 2013 flood

The mayor who became the rock for many as water surged through Alberta’s largest city says his strongest memory is of people pulling together.

CALGARY — The mayor who became the rock for many as water surged through Alberta’s largest city says his strongest memory is of people pulling together.

Friday marks one year since the start of flooding that forced 100,000 people from their homes in Calgary, High River and surrounding communities.

Four people drowned and a fifth was killed in an ATV accident while helping a neighbour sandbag. The deluge swept through 30 communities and caused an estimated $6 billion in damage — the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

But that’s not what Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi chose to focus on during a commemoration ceremony Friday morning. He remembers people reaching out and pitching in.

“Sometimes people say to me how can we celebrate such a bad thing?” he told the public gathered at the municipal building to mark the first anniversary.

“What we’re celebrating is those hands. We’re celebrating who we are. We’re celebrating what we do. We’re celebrating the resiliency of our community.”

Nenshi’s face was everywhere in his city at the height of the flood. He worked for 43 straight hours without sleep: tweeting, imploring, directing, assisting, cheering on and cheering up his citizens who saw homes ruined and possessions literally float away.

He said he still remembers a sign he saw outside one home after the flood.

“And that message is the one thing that I will never, ever forget about 2013. The message was we lost some stuff; we gained a community.”

He unveiled a plaque and a pair of bronzed rubber boots that will sit in the municipal building’s atrium as a permanent reminder of what the city faced.

Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, appeared on a video in which the prime minister referred to the “dark days” of June 2013.

“One year ago some parts of our great province were under water. Property was destroyed, homes were washed away and precious memories lost,” he said.

But people never lost heart, added his wife.

“Laureen and I will always remember the summer of 2013, not because of the height of the floodwaters, but because of the strength of the people here and the generosity of all Canadians,” the prime minister said.

Commemoration ceremonies were being held all over southern Alberta on Friday, one of them in the hard-hit community of High River, where three-quarters of the town’s homes and businesses were damaged.

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