Calgary starts slow clean-up from floods

Most office buildings still empty, workers urged to stay home

CALGARY (Reuters) — Canada's oil capital, Calgary, started the slow process of cleaning up its downtown on Tuesday in the aftermath of record-breaking floods, with many business owners returning for the first time to properties they were forced to leave last week.

Parts of the city's centre were still without power, and most shops, hotels and businesses were closed for a fifth consecutive day.

"It's kind of spooky, it's so quiet," said Calgary resident Don Usselman, a remediation technologist, as he carried hoses to help pump out a basement. "But it's snapping back real quick. We are quite a resourceful lot."

City authorities have said it is still too early to estimate the costs of the floods in southern Alberta that left three people dead, devastated entire communities and forced at least 100,000 people from their homes in Calgary and elsewhere.

But they will far exceed $400 million in damage caused by a flood in 2005, known at the time as the "flood of the century."

Although 60 per cent of the downtown area now has power, Gianna Manes, chief executive of utility Enmax, said full restoration would take a number of days, given that the eastern edge of downtown is still waterlogged.

In the centre of Calgary, a city of 1.1 million, some roads remained closed and most office buildings empty after Mayor Naheed Nenshi urged companies to allow non-essential employees to stay at home.

Contractors in high-visibility vests used rakes, shovels and leaf blowers to clear debris from sidewalks and sweep the mucky streets. Silt left behind by floodwaters turned to a thick dust that clouded the air as trucks rumbled past.

Elsewhere, sludgy puddles lingered, contributing to a noticeable surge in mosquitoes around the city.

Calgary is home to the corporate headquarters of many of Canada's oil companies. On one street corner, two men touting suitcases and plastic boxes said they were aiming to retrieve critical documents from their offices. They declined to give their names

At the back of the International Hotel, a green pipe dribbled water from underground parking levels onto the street and contractors tramped in and out of the mud-strewn entrance.

A sign on the front of the hotel, surrounded by cartoons advertising Calgary's annual Stampede, said the hotel was closed due to the floods.

The Stampede, a 10-day bonanza of rodeo, street parties and corporate entertainment, pumps $340 million per year into the Calgary economy. Officials have promised to do whatever it takes to be ready for the Stampede's July 5 scheduled opening.

Most restaurants, shops and bars in the city core remained closed on Tuesday, although a handful of restaurants with power were reopening.

"Friday was a crazy, apocalyptic scene with alarms going off, everyone leaving the buildings, the rain pouring down. They gave us 15 minutes to leave," said restaurant owner Kam Dhillon.

"We are trying to reopen today. Our power was not out for long but we had to throw away some food. It would have been one of our busiest weekends, we had two weddings booked."

The situation remains much tougher in other parts of Alberta, and residents have not yet been allowed home in the town of High River, 60 km south of Calgary, where three people died.

The handful of people who defied mandatory evacuation orders in High River were now taking up valuable resources as crews sought to resupply them with food and water, slowing recovery efforts, emergency officials said.

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