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Alberta floods: A year later, and finally moving on

Ronda Kalman looks through the window of her flood-damaged former home earlier this month.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Ronda Kalman's mobile home sits like a crumbling tombstone at the edge of what was once Riverside Villas, a trailer park on the banks of the Highwood River. The other trailers have all been removed, their former spots covered with dirt, gravel and debris. The spots look like graves for giants.

Ms. Kalman's trailer is split in two and is the only structure left in the park. She refused to sign off on the demolition, delaying her disaster relief cheque. She wanted to haul out one more heirloom – her grandmother's yellow Wedgewood china. The china set was frozen in its cupboard, encased in ice from last year's floodwater, and couldn't be extracted until about two months ago.

"Come spring, we started trying to get the china out. Digging and digging and digging," she said. "We were finally able to get it out."

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Ms. Kalman, her partner John Wills, and 191 others, are still in government-subsidized trailers outside of High River. It costs taxpayers about $38,600 a day to run this temporary community, dubbed Saddlebrook, though the displaced residents pay rent. Nearly 1,000 Albertans are still in government-subsidized communities or hotels.

High River is now a massive construction zone, with diggers, bulldozers and trucks puttering around town. They are building dikes and berms – some temporary, some permanent. High River's northwest dike, part of which sits at a choke point in the river, is the town's first line of defence.

Not everyone is happy with the engineering job. "That damn berm is too high," High River resident Eric Snow said. "It took the whole view away."

Meanwhile, Ms. Kalman's busted trailer will soon be ripped apart. Her year in Saddlebrook has been okay, she says, but it has its downsides. They do not have a kitchen, for example, because hooking up the necessary facilities would cause a fire risk.

Saddlebrook residents were fed at three restaurants in the community, two of which have since closed.

The aftermath of the flood strained her relationship with Mr. Willis, but they made it through. "We're not going to be a statistic and wind up being one of the couples that breaks up over this," she said. They will move into a new High River home in July.

But despite going to a safer place, she longs for her old life – sitting on the river's edge, having a few drinks with friends by a fire in the backyard. "I know it wasn't much," she said, "but it was mine."

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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