This is what my city looks like this morning.
It’s not New Jersey after Sandy or New Orleans after Katrina. It’s Calgary, Alberta after a flood.
We are a city of just over 1 million people, Canada’s 4th largest metropolis. We are on the edge of those gorgeous Rocky Mountains that you see in all the Canadian postcards. Our city lies at the junction of two rivers that flows from those mountains, and this week we had some rain–a lot of it. We received a month’s worth in 24 hours, and that sent our rivers rising.
You may have seen it on the news, you may not. Canadian floods don’t seem to be as newsworthy as your disasters down south. The pictures are riveting, but the stories coming from our city are neither sexy nor scandalous. There are no riots, looting, or people wandering the streets in despair. In Calgary, nobody died. It seems news needs drama these days, and while my city is under a few feet of water and 10% of our population was evacuated, there is no drama.
Image via XL 103
100,000 people were evacuated and just 1,500 went to shelters. At the peak of the flood our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was on CNN talking about relief efforts when the anchors asked him why there was no run on emergency centres. There was no hopelessness like we saw in the Superdome in New Orleans here. “Why was that?” they wondered. “We’re Calgarians, we help our neighbors,” was my Mayor’s confident matter-of-fact response.
And that’s the truth. When the people were evacuated, they went to stay with friends, family, or strangers. People opened their doors to tourists, and citizens alike, offering them a place to stay.
The city had to repeatedly ask that people stop volunteering to help out. Read that again: there was too much volunteering going on, and the city had to tell people to stop offering to help. A hashtag on Twitter has turned into a website and a volunteer organization.
If there is one lesson you can learn from the Calgary Floods this week it’s that you need to get to know your neighbor. We live in a world of garages and parkades. We drive out, we drive under, and we never say hello to each other anymore. Calgary has had calm in this event because we are a city where neighbours come together and get to know each other. Know your neighbour, you never know when you’ll need their help.
This week, with our entire downtown core evacuated and powerless because of the floods, there has been no looting. There were some long lineups at grocery stores and gas stations, but people waited patiently in line for an hour or so to get what they needed.
Image via XL 103
In less than 2 weeks, Calgary will host The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth, The Calgary Stampede. It was picked by CNN as one of the 10 best parties of the year. It is our Mardi Gras, Super Bowl, and New Year’s Eve all wrapped up into 10 days of celebration.
Our fairground is under 3 feet of water, our stadium is flooded to the 8th row, our downtown core has no power, 10% of our city is not at home, but our party will go on.
Come hell or high water, we will come together and show the world what community spirit is all about.
Come hell or high water we will help our neighbour, volunteer to sweep out mud and rebuild.
Come hell or high water, we will invite the world to come to Calgary and celebrate the spirit of community that makes this city the friendliest in the world.
Come hell or high water, we will Stampede. See you there.