The sense of surrealism began on Thursday night, when people being evacuated from their homes were told to mark their doors with an X as they leave, so that firefighters knew that everyone was out. Today, with the evacuation orders lifted for a large area of the city, people returning home were told to place signs in their windows that can be seen from the street: gas needed, electricity needed, water pumping needed. It all feels somewhat biblical.
Along with the dramatic photos and videos, stories are emerging, of resilience and kindness, of generosity and determination. Despite the massive evacuation, emergency shelters were nowhere near capacity, most of the displaced people being taken in by friends and family. Shelters have begun broadcasting notices to please not donate any more food and blankets as they have no room. The Calgary Drop In Centre, Canada's largest homeless shelter, evacuated to a former hotel on Friday night. Last night they posted a plea to hold off on bringing in any more food, clothing and blankets, at least until the next day, as they had to make room amongst the donations for people to actually sleep.
Everyone, it seems, is desperate to help.
With the cancellation of the Sled Island music festival over the weekend, Flood Island sprang up in its place. Stranded musicians played free street festivals and held concerts on balconies and in living rooms. The Calgary Stampede, whose grounds are completely engulfed a mere two weeks before the event, has adopted a new motto: Hell or High Water. The Kingsland Farmers' Market set out crates of food and urged anyone in need to come and take whatever they need. A Calgary Clean Up initiative quickly became a Facebook fixture, racking up 25,000 likes in couple of days. Updated information, requests for help and notices of free community meals are posted here, along with assurances to rest up, we will call on you to help when the time is right. The degree of organization is astounding, surpassed only by a widespread desire to help.
There have been a few instances of price gouging reported, a liquor store charging $20 for a bag of ice, a hardware store selling flats of water for $50. But then, as if by magic, you see signs in store windows offering free ice to anyone who needs it, and kids going door to door on my own untouched street, collecting donations and bottles to help flood victims.
The central icon of all this community spirit, this sensible approach and organization, is our beloved mayor. Still maintaining that killer sense of humour despite the sleepless nights and the incredible responsibility on his shoulders, he has proven that he is a leader for the worst of times.
And that's exactly the kind of leader we need to lead us back to high ground.