Update on Southern Alberta Flooding

High River #5Recovery from catastrophic flooding in southern Alberta at the end of June continues and, although it will take many months and years for many families and subdivisions to recover from the unprecedented disaster, there is much to be thankful for.

High River was the hardest hit community.  About two-thirds of the homes in a town of about 13,000 were affected.  Current estimates are that about 1,000 homes will need to be bulldozed while the others must be restored.  High River Baptist Church, one of many churches flooded by the catastrophe, was inundated with 5 feet of toxic water in its sanctuary, causing the church’s stage and kitchen floors to collapse.  A majority of the 300-person congregation had homes flooded or damaged.  Most have returned to their homes but some remain displaced and several are homeless. High River remains under a local state of emergency but is trying to resume as many normal activities as possible while the cleanup and recovery continues.

“We have seen so many wonderful things happen,” says Beryl Harbridge, the administrator of High River Baptist Church.   “We have been so blessed.  There are people who are grieving their losses and who are frustrated but we also see people who have been humbled and who have a new openness and freedom with one another.  We see growth in that. It is quite amazing what God is doing.  God is showing us what is really valuable, and it is about people, not houses, not the church building.”

At the time of writing, it is believed that the church building, including the new extension that is only about 4 years old, cannot be saved and must be razed to the ground.

“We are hearing conflicting things but the last we heard is that nothing can be saved, not even the new wing,” says Beryl.

Early insurance assessments indicate that the church’s insurance (offered by Rogers Insurance) will cover the flood damage, even though water came overland.  At this point it is unknown what it will actually cost to rebuild the church and replace lost contents but the knowledge that the insurance will cover the building is a huge relief, for which we thank God.

It isn’t even sure whether the church will be rebuilt on the same land.  Many assessments and decisions need to be made by the church’s trustees and elders, most of whom also have to deal with flooding in their own homes too.

Now is a time when the community is coming together.  High River Alliance church, which is the only unflooded church in High River, is making its facilities available to High River Baptist and other churches.  The churches are each able to hold Sunday services but schedule them for different times in the day.  As well, High River Baptist pastors and staff will all have offices at the Alliance church for the foreseeable future.  Church staff are putting a priority on making sure it contacts everyone on their church lists to ensure that everyone connected to the congregation is secure and cared for.

The CBWC now has more than $36,000 in its Disaster Relief Fund, donated by compassionate churches and individual members of our CBWC family. We are also grateful to Canadian Baptist Ministries, which donated $5,000 to the Disaster Relief Fund soon after the scale of the disaster was recognized. We are thankful to have so many loving ministry partners as we seek to share God’s love with those who have lost so much through the flooding.  The Disaster Relief Fund will be used to help High River Baptist in its recovery and community outreach efforts and will also help other churches, such as those in Calgary, that working to speed recovery efforts in their communities.  To donate, go to www.cbwc.ca/donate.

Donations can also be made through the Disaster Relief Fund to the High River Compassion Mattress Project that will supply families in the greatest need with mattresses to replace those soaked with toxic, muddy water during the flood.  Sleep Country Canada is donated mattresses at cost, roughly $500 for a queen mattress, $400 for a double and $300 for a single.  At the time of writing, 15 mattresses were ready for delivery.  College Heights Baptist, an NAB church in Prince George, BC has donated 35 full-sized, hand-made quilts.  Other CBWC churches, like Crescent Heights Baptist in Calgary, have quilting projects going to provide beautiful quilts for the new mattresses.

At this point, there are enough volunteers on the ground to help with the recovery effort.  However, with so many homes being torn down or in need of major renovations, skilled labourers like electricians, carpet layers, plumbers and carpenters will be needed in the long term.

“For the first while we had more volunteers than needs,” says Beryl.  “We can see that we will most need the trades but we don’t even know yet how many we will need.  This is coming at us in waves.  At first we have been directing volunteers to the Samaritan’s Purse, which has a strong force on the ground here.”

The CBWC’s Alberta Regional Office is keeping a list of people who would like to volunteer.  Contact Alberta Regional Minister Dennis Stone at dstone@cbwc.ca if you would like to be on the list.  For updates on volunteer needs, contact High River Baptist’s administrator Beryl Harbridge at rbharb@platinum.ca.

Elsewhere, no Calgary area churches were flooded but many congregations have been impacted.  Awaken Church which is in the Bowness area close to some of the major flooding is actively reaching out to its neighbours who have suffered losses in this area of town. Other churches were affected by power outages and evacuation orders and have been active in helping with recovery efforts.

In other developments, after almost two weeks of being under an evacuation order and without power, the CBWC head office staff were allowed to return to the downtown Calgary office to resume work on July 13.  We thank God that the office suffered no damage.

Pastor Trevor Sato of Mountain Baptist Church in Canmore reported that houses across from his home were badly damaged by Cougar Creek. We are thankful the damage in Canmore was not worse, despite the temporary closure of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Please continue to pray for southern Alberta and the hardest hit communities that the flood victims can begin to find hope and begin the long journey of recovery.  Pray that local churches will find ways to reach out with God’s compassion and love in practical and helpful ways.

If you would like to make a donation to the CBWC’s Disaster Relief Fund, contact the CBWC’s head office in Calgary or go to www.cbwc.ca/donate.