Some residents of High River will be allowed back into their homes on Saturday, says the newly appointed provincial official in charge of recovery efforts in the flooded Alberta town.
Rick Fraser, the Calgary-South East MLA, was recently named the associate minister in the municipal affairs department.
“Our priority is to enable the return of residents to their homes in a safe and orderly fashion as quickly as possible,” said Fraser.
Residents of the northwest section of town will be the first to return home, while others will be loaded onto buses to view their damaged homes beginning Friday evening.
The Alberta government said it is taking over responsibility for all emergency operations in High River at the request of the town’s mayor.
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths made the announcement, declaring a provincial state of emergency in High River and putting Fraser in charge.
About 13,000 residents were removed from High River last Thursday as the Highwood River swamped much of the town.
"The disaster in High River has been overwhelming. That’s why we are taking this unique and unprecedented step," said Griffiths.
“Mayor [Emile] Blokland and his administration have done outstanding work dealing with this situation, but it has become clear to both the mayor and me that the tasks ahead require significant resources and expertise. The province is ready to step in and provide that and build on that as necessary," he said.
Blokland and town officials have faced criticism from residents who are growing impatient as they wait to be allowed to return to their flooded homes.
"Given the scope and scale of this disaster, I have decided the best course of action for getting the people of High River back into their homes as soon as possible is for the province to take charge of the co-ordination and implementation of emergency operations," said Blokland.
Fraser will be supported by an official from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency and town employees, the province said.
Danielle Smith, leader of the opposition Wildrose Party and the MLA for the town, said it was time for the province to take over.
“I’m hoping that the information flow improves because part of what you need to deal with when people are in this situation is, they need to know … when they get back to their home, is it going to be fine with no water damage, or is it going to have to be bulldozed.”
Provincial inspectors are going house to house to determine which buildings are habitable and which will have to be condemned.
Residents are anxious to get back in and start the rebuilding process, said Blokland.
“This is their community," he said. "This is where their neighbours are, their friends are, and we'll put this town back together again."
One of the outstanding safety issues is the huge body of water that formed in town during the flood, said Fraser.
“The last thing we want is to put people in homes and say we have to evacuate because this lake decided to drain,” he said.
Short-term housing is being offered at the University of Lethbridge.
Major employer getting back on track
Cargill Meat Solutions, which employs 2,000 people in High River, could be back in production next week. Cargill's facilities weren't flooded, but the company needs access to potable water in order to resume operations.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who visited the meat plant on Sunday, said it’s a critical part of Alberta's beef Industry.
The town is still trying to get its sewage system back on line. The province has provided a pump and irrigation piping.
The province has also pledged $50 million to help with the cleanup in High River.