By LAURA TESTER
A torrential downpour stormed through Central Alberta on Tuesday, quickly flooding numerous parking lots, streets and businesses in Red Deer within an hour’s period.
The severe thunderstorm started at about 2 p.m. and then began to escalate into a rage so that an hour later, it was in full force. Similar heavy downpours were realized in several other Central Alberta communities, including Olds, Rocky Mountain House and Stettler, plus a small tornado was reported west of Didsbury.
Drains could not keep up with the quick downpour across many locations in Red Deer.
A couple of vehicles were observed floating at 51st Avenue and 47th Street. A City of Red Deer Environmental Services vacuum truck responded to that scene to clean up the excess.
Environmental Services manager Tom Warder said the city received about 14 calls from the intense storm.
“There were some reports of flooding in downtown businesses and if there are any blockages, our guys will address them,” said Warder late Tuesday afternoon.
Some businesses had to temporarily shut down because of flooding, including Real Canadian Superstore in the downtown.
Shopping malls were also affected by the heavy rains.
Dan Hachey, general manager of Parkland Mall, said rainwater gushed up from the drains and into some of the stores.
Pooling of water also occurred in the westside parking lot.
Hachey wasn’t aware of any extensive damage inside stores since the water was contained to floor levels. No shops closed as a result.
“There wasn’t severe damage. It was just unfortunate that a torrential downpour with hail plugs up drains,” said Hachey.
Red Deer Emergency Services fire-medics were called out to two reports in the city, including one at 3 p.m. of smoke inside the Empire Building along 48th Street and just off 49th Avenue.
Platoon chief Pat Mulrooney said there was some smoke likely due to a short circuit as a result of heavy flooding in the basement.
The power was shut off in the building and tenants were asked to evacuate. The African Centre was among the several businesses that are located in the basement.
A vacuum truck was brought in to clean up the water.
“The buildings on either side were fine,” Mulrooney said.
Ruth Eastman, a clinical hypnotherapist and counsellor who works on the second floor, said the rainstorm was so loud she could hardly hear her clients talking. She was evacuated and as a result she could not see any clients, including one who had driven two hours to get there.
A tree was also reported to be on fire against a power line, so Red Deer Emergency Services responded.
Mulrooney said that the city’s Electrical, Light and Power Department was called out once it was discovered the tree had landed on a power line, but wasn’t on fire. This was at 7156 Park Avenue at about 2:45 p.m.
Down at the Red Deer Golf and Country Club, golfers resumed heading back on the course shortly after skies cleared up.
“The only hardship we’re having is people can’t take the golf carts out now because it’s too wet right now,” said Dave Lachance, food services and clubhouse manager. “Our course tends to drain pretty good.”
Drivers along Hwy 2 slowed down and used their emergency blinkers as the rain and lightning storm continued. Some motorists parked on the highway’s shoulder or underneath overpasses to escape Mother Nature’s brunt.
Environment Canada confirmed a small tornado hit about 13 km south of Olds, west of Didsbury just after 2 p.m.
“Witnesses reported one roof was torn off, numerous trees were thrown around and a barn was damaged,” said Louis Kohanyi, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.
There were also reports of cattle being injured by the tornado, he said.
“Eleven tornadoes on average are reported each year in Alberta,” said Kohanyi.
Didsbury RCMP would only confirm that there had been some “structural damage” done by the tornado.
According to Kevin Heppler, a peace officer with Mountain View County, the tornado touched down around Bergen Road and Range Road 25.
“It didn’t last long and we’re currently assessing the situation,” said Heppler. “We’ve heard trees were down and couple hay sheds, things like that.”
Kohanyi said the storm brought with it some hail measuring five mm in diameter at Red Deer Airport. Gusts reached up to 70 km/h. In one hour, 10 mm of rain was reported.
Another 10 to 15 mm of rain was expected to occur overnight in Red Deer from another severe thunderstorm that was again expected to move through. Wind gusts of 60 to 90 km/h were also forecast.
Today’s temperature for Red Deer was expected to reach a high of 18C, cooler than the normal high of 22 C. For anyone experiencing flooding, the City of Red Deer Emergency Services recommends the following:
• Turn off basement faucets and outside gas valve. Shut off electricity if safe to do so.
• Never try to cross a flood area on foot. The fast moving water could sweep you away.
• If you are in a car, try not to drive through floodwaters. Fast moving water could sweep your car away. If your vehicle is caught in fast rising waters, leave it and save yourself and your passengers.
If you have concerns, please contact Environmental Services at 403-342-8750.