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Officials warn downtown Calgary powerless until at least midweek

A person rides his bike along side in the flooded streets of Calgary on Friday June 21, 2013. Alberta's largest city was swamped Friday by floodwaters that submerged much of the lower bowl of the Saddledome hockey arena, displaced tens of thousands of people and forced the evacuation of the downtown core.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Downtown Calgary will be without power until at least the middle of next week after the city and its local utility company pulled the plug on transformer stations because they were at risk of blowing up.

Bruce Burrell, director of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said water flooded some stations, and leaving them running would have caused serious damage resulting in power outages lasting months rather than days. The stations were shut down Friday.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said residents have to prepare for a delayed return to the city centre.

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"We know that this outage will be long-lasting," Mr. Nenshi told reporters in an evening briefing. "It is extremely unlikely that people will be able to return to those buildings…before the middle of next week."

Some buildings in downtown Calgary supply their own power.

The Bow River has flooded a large part of downtown Friday, and officials are unsure if it has reached its peak. They believe the smaller Elbow River has topped out, although it still busted through a dirt berm, flooded communities, and threatened the city's drinking water supply. Steady rains coupled with a melting snowpack have hit Alberta with massive floods in recent days.

Some residents in the upper portions of Calgary's Discovery Ridge -- a neighbourhood along the Elbow River in the far west of the city -- could be allowed back to their homes as early as late Friday, Mr. Nenshi said. He couldn't make any guesses as to when people from communities along the Bow, the city's largest river, would be allowed to return.

"This is far from over. We're still very much in the middle of the situation," he said. "And we also have to start planning on what happens next."

Residents should not return to their homes until they are given the green light from the police. About 75,000 people live in the areas Calgary officials ordered evacuated. The city does not know how many people complied.

Twenty-four communities in southern Alberta have declared states of emergencies thanks to widespread flooding. Casualties have been confirmed in High River after the Highwood River put its streets underwater Thursday. Canmore, Lethbridge, and Red Deer are among those who have declared states of emergencies. Evacuation orders across Alberta affected roughly 100,000 people.

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The water in Calgary's Bow River was moving at 1,700 cubic metres per second downstream from the Bearspaw Dam, Mr. Nenshi said Friday evening, nudging the estimate above the afternoon's calculation of 1,500 cubic metres per second. At 1,500 cubic metres per second, the Bow was moving roughly three times as fast it did when the city flooded in 2005.

Water from the Elbow River rushed into the Glenmore Reservoir's spillway Friday, but not the reservoir proper. The reservoir supplies much of Calgary with drinking water.

Mr. Nenshi said the city's two water treatment plants were operating properly Friday evening, meaning the city's drinking water remained safe. He asked Calgarians to conserve water.

Officials maintain no one has been injured in Calgary's flooding.

Police chief Rick Hanson and Mr. Burrell also sent a message to folks hoping to make a healthy profit off residents in need. Gouging, they noted, is illegal during states of emergencies. At least one case has been referred to the Calgary Police Service. The city's 911 system is working and if folks witness looting, they are to call the emergency line.

But Mr. Nenshi also warned that dam issues upstream on the Bow River, including water flowing over the dams, could continue to cause problems, including water "surges." The good news, he said it's far enough upstream that the city would have a warning if it happen, and currently dams upstream are in good order.

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"You know, right now it's a mug's game to make estimations, but it's not an unlikely event," Mr. Nenshi.

Mr. Burrell also said Edmonton has promised to ship 20,000 sandbags south to help the Calgary by Saturday.

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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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