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Couple’s ‘love nest on the Bow’ one of first Calgary houses to be demolished

The house that Sharon Raycroft and Geoff Wilcox have lived in for the past 21 years will be torn down this week.

Chris Bolin/Photos by Chris Bolin

From the front of the house, it still looks like the charming post-war abode it once was. The gravel driveway is neat, the paint is fresh, and only the yellow tape blocking access to the yard gives away the fact that this house has more serious damage than its neighbours.

It takes a walk to the side yard to see the precarious six-metre hole below this Bowness neighbourhood house.

When Bow River flood waters rushed in on the night of June 20, part of the old brick foundation of the house washed away and water flowed directly into the basement.

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Now, what used to be a downstairs studio space and bathroom looks like a muddy cave, filed with an assortment of tossed household items including a wrapping-paper roll, a binder and a bookshelf.

Eleven days after floods hit, Calgary continues a cleanup and rebuilding effort that will go on for months or years, and collectively will cost billions.

Amid the state of emergency, city safety officers have been scouring the worst-hit neighbourhoods around the clock to pinpoint dangerous homes like this – where the structure is fragile, and the inhabitants will never be allowed to return.

"The house is coming down," said Scott Miller, a city safety codes officer who has been working every day to assess damage in homes since the floods hit.

Mr. Miller was the one to tell Geoff Wilcox and his wife Sharon Raycroft that their white 1947 house nestled on the banks of the Bow River – which more resembles an Ontario lakefront cottage than a city home – will be one of the first of many Calgary buildings that city safety inspectors order demolished as a result of the floods.

"I've lived in Calgary all my life and this is all so strange," Mr. Miller said.

The number of homes that will be written off is still unknown. But Calgary's Emergency Management Agency says as many as 10,000 people will be out of their homes for a significant period of time, and the city believes at least 2,400 houses are damaged.

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"Sharon had it fixed up like a little jewel box," Mr. Wilcox, 55, a geologist, said of his house. "It was our love nest on the Bow."

While some of the homes around them have been deemed structurally sound, the house they've lived in for the past 21 years will be torn down within the week. The water reached as high as 30 centimetres on the 800-square-foot main floor, where the floor is now so warped the front door won't open.

The couple managed to salvage the pale apricot dress Ms. Raycroft's mother wore on her wedding day in the 1920s, and her parents' old oak piano, but lost their photo albums.

Now they are deciding whether to rebuild, and where to land.

"Calgary is a beautiful city, and the people are great," Mr. Wilcox said. "But it's an expensive place to live. And rebuilding will take a long time. Already it's hard to get drywall in this city."

Many Calgarians are being forced to make the same kind of big choices.

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Just across the Bow River from Mr. Wilcox and Ms. Raycroft's property, the land behind a church and several homes had sunk or eroded away to the point where one house no longer has a yard, just a deck perched above the embankment.

The Calgary Real Estate Board said house listings will fall and house sales in flood-affected neigbourhoods will face price discounts in the short term.

But over all, the board's president Becky Walters said the city's resale market is strong enough to weather the "terrible event."

Other Alberta communities were hard hit as well, most notably High River, the 13,000-person town south of Calgary which saw the worst of Alberta's flood damage.

Now the wrangling over the costs begins.

Canadian home insurance policies generally don't cover flooding, only sewer backup.

While the Alberta government has pledged as much as $10,000 per household in immediate help for homeowners affected by the flood, a broader, more expensive, Ottawa-backed bailout plan is expected.

But who pays for the damages or the loss of an entire house – especially one in many of the wealthy Calgary neighbourhoods such as Roxboro, Rideau Park and Elbow Park that were some of the most badly flooded neighbourhoods – will be a difficult question.

Even Mayor Naheed Nenshi has noted the province faces a quandary: how to structure an aid program that could end up helping the richest people in the city in the wake of the disaster.

"Some of the homes in the city are very expensive homes, but not all of them," Mr. Nenshi said last week.

"There's a wide variety of people who have been impacted at every part of the socio-economic scale. And this will be interesting for the province, frankly – if I can be a pundit for just a second – as they're developing their disaster relief plans, they're going to have to think hard about that question."

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