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High River calls for overhaul to Alberta’s flood recovery

Crews shore up against flooding in High River on June 3, 2014, almost a year after the Alberta town was heavily flooded.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A community badly hit by flooding that swept through southern Alberta in 2013 says hundreds of damage claims still have not been resolved.

The Town of High River has issued a report called Finish The Job – Fix the System that lists what it calls systemic failings of Alberta's Disaster Recovery Program.

The report says the system needs to be overhauled to spare others the suffering that people in the area have endured before there is another major disaster.

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"We want the people of Alberta to be aware of these problems so the government will be motivated to fix a broken system," Jim Ross, a spokesman for the town, said Tuesday.

The 2013 floods have been called the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history, prompting promises from the provincial and federal governments for swift action. The High River area was particularly hard hit, with the flood waters forcing more than 13,000 people from their homes and businesses.

The report calls on the government to resolve all outstanding damage claims by June 20 and all appeals settled by the end of the year.

It also recommends a complete external review of the program "to address significant failures" experienced in how it responded to the floods.

"The High River experience has shown it is absolutely critical that the DRP program be structured and delivered in an environment motivated by compassion and understanding," reads the report.

"It is also essential that DRP staff be respectful of, and guided by, the reality that the individuals requiring financial support have already been traumatized by the disaster itself."

The program is designed to provide financial assistance for uninsurable property damage, loss and other expenses.

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The report notes the government has promised to review more than 10,000 disaster recovery program claims filed by people in southern Alberta once all the claims and appeals are resolved.

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee said the government has settled 97 per cent of the cases and hopes to close all but the most complex by the end of June, the third anniversary of the flood.

She said a review of the program is already under way.

"We look forward to using what we learn from that, along with the report that they (High River) shared, to ensure that Albertans who have to go through a disaster in the future do have the very best response," she said.

The report makes almost 60 recommendations for change, including processing claims in a timely manner and making government officials more accountable.

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