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Alberta Flood: Primed for grime

Alberta Flood: Primed for grime

Posted on: June 27, 2013
Author: Jennifer Kohle

Karin Poldaas is the communications leader for ATB's Economics & Research team. She works out of Stephen Avenue and is happy to connect you to the cleanups via her personal email at Wednesday's volunteer cleanup was in Erlton and Rideau Park-Roxboro. Thursday's will be in Bridgeland.

Canadian Forces vehicles in Inglewood

Be prepared to get dirty.

That's what we said in our invitation to hundreds of Calgarians on Monday night. We were inviting them to pitch in and clean up Erlton—one of the hardest hit communities in our city. More on how they responded in just a minute.

Since day one of this crisis, many of us have been glued to the news. But watching quickly turned into doing when a group in our community jumped in to help our alderman. We didn't know it at the start, but our ward was about to be walloped by water.

On Thursday night, I did what I know. I hopped on our community Facebook and Twitter to keep our neighbours updated, trying to point them to the latest information. Many were evacuated from their homes. They felt helpless. We wanted, at least, to keep them in the loop as best we could. I hit the hay after 1 a.m., sore fingers, sore heart.

Waking up Friday and looking online at some of my friend's photos was surreal. It really did feel like we were part of an end-of-the-world blockbuster. Everything was underwater. Including Stampede. And our downtown.

I got on the phone with my leader, Todd Hirsch, ATB's chief economist. While Todd knew a lot of what was going on, he thought it was still possible to get to the Red Arrow to bus up to Edmonton for an event at the University of Alberta. Wandering around a desolate downtown, dressed (typically) impeccably with a wheelie case in tow, Todd was one of the few in the usually bustling core that morning. And despite the obvious, he was still trying to hit the road north. I had been online for an hour already and told Todd he wasn't going anywhere. He relented and rolled back home.

After talking with Todd and receiving an email from ATB headquarters, I knew ATB supported my efforts to do my work by helping my neighbours.

The volunteer team spent the weekend on the frontlines with our alderman who was directing people and resources where they were needed. The army had to be called in to shore up the edge of the Bow River in Inglewood, where the angry water had chewed away at the soil bank, destroying some 20 metres of land, including an asphalt pathway, bolted-down garbage bins, trees and grass. We feared the water's next target would be nearby houses, then less than 5 metres away.

After being on the frontlines for those early days, we knew it was time to shift our focus from being with people to getting people who wanted to help to the people who needed the help. A number of our ward's communities —Inglewood, Riverbend, Bridgeland, Erlton, Rideau Park and Roxboro—were hurt.

And, so, on Monday night, we decided to invite Calgary to Erlton. Todd was all for it and told me he believed it was the best place for me to be. Have I said that I love my leader and I love ATB? I do.

So, we sent the muddy message out to hundreds, posted it on Facebook and tweeted it. It didn't take long for it to spread. Friends and strangers shared it and one pal posted it on Calgary Clean-up, a Facebook group that already has more than 35,000 followers. We're in this together. You can feel it.

Besides reminding Calgarians to wear boots, gloves and a facemask to Erlton, we asked only that they be primed for grime. It's everywhere and in everything. It's a mess.

Wow. More than 500 people showed up on Tuesday ready to dig in and to help their neighbours. Shovelling silt, piling dumpsters full of couches, filing cabinets and personal mementoes, the work was physical and emotional.

Everyday gestures of kindness took on the greatest weight. For instance, there was Andrew from the Tim Horton's in Chestermere who delivered coffee and donuts from house to house. From Chestermere! Moms dropped off sandwiches for volunteers that their own children had made. Big Rock dropped off boxes and boxes of rubber boots. And CBC, Global and QR77 all promoted it.

As overwhelming as the flood was in a bad way, this was overwhelming in a good way. And ATB supported me to be there to witness this human kindness. Thank you Calgary and thank you ATB.

- Karin

More stories from the floods:

Dear Jon
Tears and drywall
Fully invested
Wet books, story of energy
Extra Hands