After receiving record-breaking rainfall, the community of High River suffered a flash flood on Thursday, June 20 when the Highwood River overflowed its banks. By night fall, the entire town was under several feet of water. At 7:30 the following morning, more than 100 volunteers wearing Helping Hands vests from the Calgary Foothills Stake met at the Woodgate Chapel in Okotoks, a nearby town that was not flooded. By 8:30 a.m., teams of men, women, and boys were organized, equipped and leaving for High River to help with the evacuation. The Woodgate Chapel was set up as the command centre and relief point for the town, where all evacuees could obtain clothing and food, including fresh fruit and vegetables.
For more than a week, members were scattered between evacuation centres and friends homes before residents and volunteers were allowed to re-enter High River. An email was sent out asking for 50 volunteers to help with the cleanup effort. Upwards of 200 came forward that first morning. Since the number of entry passes was limited, only some of the LDS volunteers could begin to help while others were kept on standby.
The High River Ward met at the Woodgate Chapel on Sunday, the 30th. Members were early for Church. They were looking to find each other, concerned, asking about one another, exchanging experiences and discussing where they had found refuge. There were hugs and some tears. [For some personal stories click here].
Later Doug Kabeary spoke to the congregation. “My emotions are raw. Not over the loss sustained, but over the service and love that has poured out from the wards and stakes. People everywhere want to help us. I can’t express my gratitude. There have been calls from stakes throughout the province.” He talked about the love of the Bishop for his flock and how the Bishop didn’t sleep until everyone had a spot to stay and was safe. “There have been many miracles and we will remember them. We are suffering the loss of things. The Lord knows us and understands.” He advised the members of the ward to be humble, grateful and to say thank you to those helping out. He bore his testimony and said, “There is a great difficulty we have to overcome, and understand. We have an opportunity now and if we learn more and grow, we will be better off eternally.”
Bishop Hirsche also spoke reminding the members that the Woodgate Cultural Hall would be open every day to collect and distribute donated food and clothing. After dealing with the practical aspects of the restoration efforts, he assured the members that “The Lord is in control and even though many of you have lost all your material possessions, if we pull together and trust in our Heavenly Father, we will get through. Our town is a wreck, it really is. It will take courage and strength to get on our knees and pray for the help we need. We are His people. ‘Bear one another’s burdens that they may be light.’ This is the toughest thing, but we will get through.”
Cleanup and recovery in High River will take many weeks and even months, but the victims of the flooding will not have to face it alone. The yellow vests of Helplng Hands Church volunteers are out in force and will lighten the load. The spirit of the Gospel, which offers hope to all, especially in the face of disaster, is at work in southern Alberta.