It is the second time I have started to post today.
This morning, I never got to my computer. The news in my city too grave, too shocking, too stunning to give my heart room to post.
Yesterday evening, my daughter and her cat, along with her room-mate arrived at my house seeking refuge. Their apartment building along the beltline of the downtown core had been evacuated. The flood waters were quickly approaching. They needed shelter.
I glued myself to the TV. Watching breathlessly as report after report rolled in of more evacuations. Neighbourhood after neighbourhood. Families. Singles. Elderly. Homeless. In total, 100,000 people forced to flee for higher ground.
I spoke to my sister. Our mother lives in a senior’s residence close to the Bow River, one of the two rivers that runs through Calgary. Situated on a flood plain, it was on the ‘evacuation watch’ list. We waited. No news. Perhaps they’ll be saved we said. We crossed our fingers, toes, eyes. Said a prayer. Said many. And waited.
At midnight I finally tore myself from the television and went to bed. At 7:30 my sister called. The manager of our mother’s residence had just called. The buses had arrived at 1:30am to transport over 250 seniors from four area residences to an EVAC centre.
My daughter, her room-mate and I headed out to make our way to the centre. It was a slow drive that ill-prepared us for what greeted us when we arrived.
It had taken until 5am for the buses to arrive at the centre. Bridge closures. Road closures. Detours. Secondary routes had caused delay after delay of their passage across the city. What should have been a maximum 40 minute drive (more likely 20 minutes at that time of the morning) had taken 4 hours.
The Centre was ill-prepared for the influx of people. “We’re not officially an EVAC centre” one of the staff told me. “People just started arriving so we just started taking care of them.”
And take care of them they did. With precision and grace and efficiency and most importantly kindness and compassion. Chairs were set out. Food. Blankets. A medical centre established. Names were registered. Volunteers turned up. Donations started pouring in. And so did people.
Women from an emergency shelter. Seniors. People from down the valley along the river who had no where else to go.
By the time we were able to make it there, people had been sitting in chairs for hours. And still, they smiled. They laughed. They shared a joke. A hug. A kind word. One man sang. In his seventies, he danced with my daughter’s room-mate, his voice a shaky but rich baritone. Another man clapped his hands in time.
We handed out fruit, yoghurt, coffee. We sat and chatted. We found blankets. The cellphone became the connection that shaped each person’s next destination. I phoned my sister. Liseanne, my daughter, would drive our mother to her house in the deep south of the city. We shared concern — would she be able to get across the causeway that spanned the reservoir? It’s open now, I told her. And then, I asked if another woman could come. Her son was somewhere working for the City. Shoring up berms. Filling sandbags. He’d come later to get his mother.
My sister quickly said yes. Of course.
And Liseanne set out with her two precious passengers while Laura and I continued to offer whatever support we could amongst others doing the same.
We came home late afternoon. I tried to post but my mind was too full. My heart too heavy.
There was the 80+ year-old woman who’d taken a cab and not told anyone at her downtown apartment building where she’d gone. “Is there anyone I can call?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t have any numbers with me.”
She was confused. Disoriented. She’d pulled on her beautiful red wool winter coat, grabbed a pair of black leather sandals, her handbag and left still wearing her pajamas and pink bedroom slippers. Her neighbour from the apartment below hers had joined her in the cab. She had taken the time to pack her valuables into a large suitcase. Both sat together talking, sitting silently, wondering if they’d be allowed to go home that night.
“It will be a couple of days, at least,” I told them.
They looked at me. Dazed. The one woman asked about the bunnies on her street. “What will happen to them?” she asked. Her breath catching. “I always have carrots in my pockets. What will become of them?”
I didn’t have an answer.
In a time of crisis there are so few answers. There is only the best we can do to create safety. Comfort. Ease.
I finally reached the woman in the red coat’s niece. After much struggle to get to the centre, she arrived, hugged her aunt and lead her out to her waiting vehicle and a safe place to call home. The woman with the carrots son-in-law arrived and she too has found rest with her family.
My sister’s guest will stay the night. Her son is stranded on the north side of the river, his home also evacuated. But still, he works tirelessly to do whatever it takes to help out in this crisis. Like so many city employees, first line responders, EMS, health employees, Red Cross workers and volunteers, they are doing whatever they can to make a difference.
And the rain falls and the waters keep rising.
In all, 100,000 people in our city are without a place to call home tonight. Only 1500 are staying in shelters. The rest, like my daughter and her room-mate have found family or friends to take them in. People like my sister who without hesitation say, “Of course.”
People like Shannon. A nurse who arrived because, as she said, “I couldn’t stay home and do nothing. My husband can take care of the children. But I can help here.” She phoned her husband to tell him to make up the spare room. “Who knows who I’ll be bringing home,” she said.
Our city is under seige, as are many communities to the west and south, but the spirit of our people shines bright.
Eventually, the rains will stop, the waters will recede but nothing can dim our spirit.
For information on the Floods: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2013/06/21/alberta-flooding-calgary-canmore-high-water.html