Eckville cleans up after flooding, storm

Every hand available was mopping up in Eckville on Tuesday after heavy storms flooded much of the town, knocked out power and swamped highways in the surrounding area.

A motorist negotiates around a sinkhole that partially a gravel truck in Eckville after rain and hail caused heavy flooding late Monday night.

A motorist negotiates around a sinkhole that partially a gravel truck in Eckville after rain and hail caused heavy flooding late Monday night.

Every hand available was mopping up in Eckville on Tuesday after heavy storms flooded much of the town, knocked out power and swamped highways in the surrounding area.

Estimates on the amount of rain that fell during the night on Monday range from 150 to 250 mm in just a few hours, along with hail at some sites.

Mayor Helen Posti estimated on Tuesday morning that basements were flooded in one-quarter of the roughly 400 houses in town.

“Have you ever seen anything like this? I haven’t,” said Posti.

“The worst of it probably came down in the first couple of hours, and then it would kind of let up for a minute and then that storm would do an about turn and just come right back on us. It was just like it was hovering and it would twist and change directions. There was a while there when the wind was coming sideways.”

Business owner Corrine Thomson could only shake her head and repeat the word most often heard on Tuesday morning as she walked through her store, Eckville New and Used: “Unbelievable.”

Carpets on her main floor were soaked and the basement had flooded, soaking into cardboard boxes packed full of merchandise.

Boxes of Christmas decorations had fallen into the stairwell, stopping Thomson from going into the basement to check on antiques she had stored there.

A few blocks to the north, surface water lapped at the foundations of the ConocoPhillips office where the lawn had been the day before. It had already subsided somewhat from earlier in the day, said employee Dwayne Bunch, who commutes to Eckville from Sylvan Lake.

“Before, it was to the top of the cement on the power box. I’m sure it would have knocked the power out. I couldn’t believe how the skies opened up and it just downpoured. It’s unreal.”

Bunch said he was amazed to see a gravel truck trapped in a sinkhole on the street south of the GTI gas station.

“It’s a gravel truck with a pup. The road’s caved in and the wheels on the pup are way off the road,” he said.

Just west of the Town Hall, crews from a variety of local companies were helping empty the flooded basement of the Eckville Manor, home to 50 senior citizens.

Sam Penrod, maintenance manager for the Lacombe Foundation, said he had been bailing out another of its homes in Lacombe until 11 p.m. on Monday and got home to find flooding in his own basement. Then he got a call at about 5:30 a.m. advising that the basement at Eckville Manor had filled almost to the ceiling and that the boiler and electrical box — located at the lowest end of the basement — were under water.

“When I got here, both boiler rooms were flooded. You couldn’t even get into them,” said Penrod.

Fortis was notified of the damage but would not be able to enter the basement until the water was all pumped out.

By 11:30 a.m., the water truck brought to the site had been filled and emptied 10 or 11 times, at about 9,000 litres per load, said Penrod. He estimated at that time that it would take five to six hours to empty the basement and restore services.

He believes the water came up through the ground, which had been saturated with the heavy rainfall.

“It just kept coming in and coming in and coming in.”

Besides the town crews called to the scene, trucks and crews arrived from ConocoPhillips and Hellbound Services in Eckville as well as DDR Steam and Pressure in Rocky Mountain House.

There’s no truth to reports that the manor was evacuated, said assistant manager Lisa Leschert. Although a handful of residents chose to stay with family members, most were able to go about their normal routine, including taking part in their regular activities while crews worked to clean up the basement, she said.

Cooks Carol Moore and Kim Finkbeiner prepared meals as usual, using a gas stove and natural light to get lunch on the table.

The Community Centre was opened at 12:30 a.m. in case anyone needed a place to stay, but only about five people showed up, said Posti. Members of the RCMP arrived to help out as well.

Having a large population of truckers and oilfield workers in the community provided a real benefit, said Posti.

“This is a community that always sticks together. They get out there and help each other.”

Roads were swamped in all directions, including sections of Hwy 766, which runs north and south through the east side of town.

A section of Hwy 766 immediately north of Hwy 12 had to be closed when a sloughs filled up and started pouring over the highway.

While a few pickup trucks made it through, a semi went out of control and hit the ditch about one km north of the Hwy 12 intersection.

Golfers also ran into an unusually massive hazard on the Dark Horse Golf Course, immediately south of town, where the Last Hill Creek breached its banks and flooded the lower areas of the property.

Environment Canada forecasts for Rocky Mountain House included warnings of more heavy rain to come today and Wednesday, with the first signs of relief expected on Thursday.

bkossowan@www.reddeeradvocate.com

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