Tensions rise in High River

HIGH RIVER — Frustration continues to mount for people in High River, who have still not been allowed back into their homes a week after flood waters ravaged the region

HIGH RIVER — Frustration continues to mount for people in High River, who have still not been allowed back into their homes a week after flood waters ravaged the region.

The RCMP has stepped up its presence around the perimeter of the community, posting officers at various checkpoints and on roving patrol throughout the evacuated areas.

Mounties say three people were arrested on Wednesday night trying to get into the town but were caught by officers on patrol. The RCMP says it will discuss with the Crown whether charges should be laid.

Global News reported that tensions were running so high that at one point officers faced off with residents trying to get in and laid down a spike belt so vehicles couldn’t proceed.

Global also reported officers had gone into homes to seize unsecured firearms, which will be released back to their owners at a later date.

There are indications that some residents are starting to organize.

Maureen Hefferton told CHQR News that hundreds are planning to meet Friday at Coal Trail with the aim of pushing for more information than officials have so far provided.

She said many of their homes suffered only minimal damage, but they’re concerned that the longer their homes sit with water in them, the worse the final bill will be.

“You could have saved it in three or four days with a pump but now that mould is growing and it’s getting worse,” she said. “People who would have had a certain amount of damage are now going to have twice that much or have their homes uninhabitable.”

Mayor Emile Blokland said the finishing touches are being put on the town’s comprehensive, staged re-entry plan, adding it will be announced Friday at 12:30 p.m.

“The last thing we want is to put people in homes and then say we have to evacuate because this lake decided to drain or because we haven’t had a drain and there’s a saturation of water and all of a sudden there’s a large rainfall and we’re evacuating people again and perhaps we can’t get them to leave this time, which would result in death,” said Rick Fraser, who was recently appointed minister of regional recovery to handle the flooding.

RCMP say so far there is just one person unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, hundreds of High River residents encountered another frustration when they lined up for hours in the hot sun in nearby Nanton to be issued pre-loaded debit cards to help pay for their immediate housing and day to day expenses.

Later in the day, Opposition Leader Danielle Smith tweeted there was a four-hour wait in Vulcan, Alta., where officials were handing out both the debit cards and personal cheques in an effort to speed things up.

Blokland also announced Thursday that those staying at evacuation centres in outlying communities now will have the option of taking up temporary housing in suites at the University of Lethbridge.

“These folks have been sleeping on cots for the past week, three feet apart in a hockey arena,” he said. “This is a voluntary relocation for all those that would like to get into more comfortable housing.”

In Calgary, people continued the long process of cleaning up flood-damaged homes as they tried to get their lives back to normal.

Engineers at the Calgary Zoo determined it was safe to start returning animals to their enclosures, including snow leopards, red pandas and an emu. Lions and tigers could be back in their pens by the weekend.

Giraffes which had been found shivering in belly-deep water on the weekend were on the mend, the zoo said.

The Alberta government reduced the number of communities with states of local emergency to 12, down from almost 30 a week ago.

Nine highways remained closed. Two highways have restricted access, including the Trans-Canada Highway west of Calgary.

In Medicine Hat, 75 per cent of evacuated homes and businesses have been inspected and 90 per cent of those have been deemed safe for people.

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