Anger and despair as disaster strikes small community
John Rieti, CBC News
As the truck rattles to a stop, Siksika Chief Fred Rabbit Carrier looks out over the flooded community of Chicago Bridge where houses sit amid floodwater like islands.
Severe flooding has forced around 1,000 Siksika people from their homes on the Alberta reserve, a large portion of which hugs a stretch of the Bow River about 100 kilometres east of Calgary. The disaster has been unfolding there since Friday, when the river poured over its banks and covered some areas with over a metre of floodwater.
“How are we going to recover from all of this is what went through my thoughts,” Chief Rabbit Carrier told CBC News on Sunday.
“There’s a sense of hopelessness… as a leader you have to overcome that and put emotions aside and start working toward the recovery.”
Chief Rabbit Carrier said the community is still in a state of emergency. The reserve’s recreation centre has been turned into a shelter where a list of items — baby formula, diapers, towels, blankets and non-perishable food — are in high demand. The phone in the centre’s main office rings constantly.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we have not lost anybody,” Chief Rabbit Carrier said.
In the lobby, a group of volunteers hoping to rescue animals trapped in the flood gets organized. They’ve already saved several animals, but plenty of barn animals and pets alike have perished. “If it has a pulse, we’ll save it,” one volunteer said.
First Nation feels forgotten
Sally Fox, who has lived on the Siksika reserve for her entire life, refused to go to the emergency shelter, opting instead to sit at a makeshift campsite on the hill overlooking her flooded blue house.
Chicago Bridge resident Sally Fox set up a makeshift camp overlooking her flooded home where she’s been since Friday. (John Rieti/CBC)
“I hope the house is OK,” Fox said, “but I fear the worst.”
As she looks out, her husband and grandson trudge up the flooded front driveway. It’s the first time since Friday the water’s been low enough in her community of Chicago Bridge to survey the extent of the damage.
While Fox is stoic about the fate of her house, she’s furious with the lack of media coverage.
“It was all about the Saddledome, they forgot about us,” Fox said.
Chief Rabbit Carrier, while pleased by the presence of several news crews on Saturday, agrees. “We had to beg for coverage,” he said.
People on the reserve are “angry” he said, that the media focused so heavily on Calgary’s clean-up while people in Siksika were fighting to save their homes.
The message today, expressed clearly by everyone here is this: Siksika needs help.
In Little Washington, there’s almost a kilometre-wide swath of flowing water still covering the community. Residents say it could be weeks before the community is dry. Even then, most of the 45 houses here likely won’t be saved.
Some 45 homes in the community of Little Washington have been severely damaged. (John Rieti/CBC)
Ratford Black Rider lost his house, three cars and a school bus in the flood.
“The water came in so fast, we only had less than half an hour to get what we can out,” he said.
The four Siksika communities — a popular golf resort on the reserve was also destroyed — hit hardest all sit on low-lying land, nestled beneath foothills. Little Washington residents checking on their homes said there has been some flooding in the past, but it’s never been more than a little water in the basement — not even during the major floods of 2005.
Today the water is still moving quickly, gushing over a cracked Little Washington road on its way toward Medicine Hat.
Chief Rabbit Carrier says he hopes his community can get into “recovery mode” in the next 24 hours. But he said he hopes when the water subsides, people don’t forget about Siksika.