I felt it was time to write this letter about my brother, the mayor of High River. Most of us take every day as a normal challenge and take everything for granted. We pretty much follow the same routine day in and day out, without changing too much. I know that I do.
June 20-23, 2013, everything changed in High River. Not only changed for 13,000 residents, but also their families and friends outside of town.
This was not a normal flood. High River can handle those. They do just about every year. They have the expertise and equipment to deal with those flood issues. I’ve been with the mayor in previous years and seen what they had to deal with — and it was handled extremely well.
The High River flood of 2013 has been declared the third-worst disaster to hit North America. The flow rates of the Highwood River were indeed greater than Niagara Falls.
About all you can do is stand back and watch.
In two words — total devastation.
With a state of emergency already declared, and the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in full operation, town officials knew they were in trouble. Panic safety became top priority.
As floodwaters continued to rise, within hours a mandatory full evacuation order was issued. By the second and third days, the entire town was under water; some streets nine feet deep. We’ve all seen the pictures over and over.
In the meantime, tensions, tempers and stress levels were also starting to rise. My brother called about then and said, “Rocky, you know I’m the mayor of High River, but I don’t know if I got a town left.” I replied back to him “Emile, you still have your people. Look after your people!”
In the three to four weeks that followed, I absolutely believe he did exactly that. The mayor and council working with the EOC kept public safety and health in mind, kept enforcing the evacuation order in place, and don’t forget; there were no utilities working, at all.
With increased security, police and army in place, much to some citizen’s unrest, the mayor kept his line — keeping his population informed of what was happening daily. He took some flack over this (and probably still is), but he stayed the course to make sure his population was safe.
His decision to hand over the local state of emergency to the province was a very wise one, even if it was only for two weeks. High River’s town staff and administration were completely mentally drained and fatigued. Many or all of them were dealing with their own personal flood problems.
Even the mayor of High River didn’t escape unscathed. His house and commercial properties received extensive damage.
As High River moves ahead, time will heal. Some of their citizens were more fortunate than others. Some lost a little and others lost a lot.
It is very gratifying, to say the least, to see people helping people; communities helping communities. The week of July 8 to 15, there was in one day, excess of 1,000 volunteers in High River. This is tremendous!
It might take 10 years to rebuild High River, but we all know — they will get there.
As for my brother, I had lunch with him on July 17. We’ve never been really emotional, except maybe when mom passed away a few years ago. But I do know, he has full family support behind him, form the Blokland side, as well as from his wife Gail’s side.
We all love him very much and we all respect him for the leadership role that he has taken on in this disaster. Even in Strathmore, where my brother visited July 17, people were saying thank-you to Emile.
Premier Redford told me that Emile was one of the strongest people that she has met.
Small-town politics can be tough, as I have found out, but this is a big-time business that has to be dealt with.
I have known this man for 60 years and I have never been more proud of him.
In his words, “Inch by inch, we will get there.” And you will. Our mother always told us “never give up.”
Mayor Emile Blokland is probably the hardest-working and well-known mayor in Canada — for all the wrong reasons.
High River, you should be very proud of your mayor, Emile Blokland.
Coun. Rocky Blokland
Town of Strathmore