Alberta’s worst flooding in history over Calgary and southern parts of the province has created havoc for thousands of people, including Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, the Bashaw-area MLA.
As a leader in the provincial response to the disaster, the Battle River-Wainwright MLA’s absence from home has also taken toll on his wife, Sue, and sons Austin, 7, and Brady, 4.
“The funniest thing happened the other day when Austin told Sue, ‘Mom, I really miss Dad,’ and then Brady said, ‘Me, too, let’s turn on the TV,’ ” Griffiths said last Thursday.
Griffiths and Premier Alison Redford have had media briefings and flood tours in Calgary and High River, the community evacuated entirely because of the late-June flooding. High River’s mayor, Emile Blokland, is a former Stettler town councillor.
Awake around the clock after the floods hit June 21, and quickly spread, Griffiths has been working with emergency and municipal and federal officials, along with Redford, to help manage the aftermath.
“This is an unprecedented disaster around the province,” Griffiths said in an interview with the Independent while he was stationed in High River, where more than 13,000 people were evacuated in the hardest-hit area.
That was also a volatile area last week as frustrated residents wanted to return to their homes, but authorities advised them that the flood zone was still off limits. By the weekend, some of them were permitted to return home to begin the long cleanup process.
During the disaster and recovery, 26 municipalities were directly impacted and many Albertans pitched in with support.
“We have offers of support and help from all corners of the province,” Griffiths said.
With few clothes and not much time to do laundry, he said some people donated clothing to him.
“Everyone is working around the clock as best as they can,” said Griffiths, a former MLA for the Castor-Coronation area and a former teacher at Byemoor School, south of Stettler.
As waters continued to recede and evacuated people were allowed to return to their homes, the operation flowed more quickly than expected in Calgary, with an overwhelming number of volunteers. The province also applied lessons learned from the wildfires in Slave Lake that wiped out about 400 homes in May 2011, when more than 7,000 people were evacuated.
“We got up and running faster than anyone could imagine because we have experience from the Slave Lake wildfires,” Griffiths said.
“We have learned from Slave Lake.”
While the worst of the emergency and severe weather appeared to be finished, the work is a long-term process.
“We’re getting the situation under control,” said Griffiths, who expected relief to begin Friday. “It will be a long-term process, with about eight to 10 years of rebuilding.”
While many people have described the flood crisis as “surreal,” he said it’s like the death of a loved one, and could take some people a long time to grieve.
Three people died in southern Alberta in flood-related deaths in the devastation.
As he joined fellow Albertans in the flood response, Griffiths cancelled a scheduled trip to England for a mission on social and affordable housing.