I stood at the new wharf, formerly a street that I’d walked down over a hundred times, waiting for my wife, Tamara. A raging river now stood between us, and there was no word from the other side. I managed to grab the arm of an officer, on a passing boat, and told him to check the library: it was there where she was trapped.
As a librarian, she desperately worked in the dark to get the lower shelved books to higher ground. Meanwhile, a patron was taking his college examination, and some elderly folks, with nowhere else to go, had shuffled in for shelter. But nobody knew what the storm would really bring.
As the water slowly rose over my rubber boots and the firemen loaded boats off the river bank, the flood quickly closed on the library, engulfing the surrounding area and turning it into a small island. Just outside, two men had tried to canoe up the current, only to be toppled over by the rapids and were nearly drowned underneath the street lights.
The librarians joined together in an attempt to force a door open. But the pressure was too great, and the exit would barely budge. Some panicked, but my wife stayed calm. Tamara convinced the others to break a window off the west hillside. Another, Maggie, took a rubber hammer and pounded furiously at it, until it finally broke away. They’d have to hurry to not be overtaken.
Water was now cascading in from all three of the doors, forming several water falls, filling the library with mud and sewage; it smelled like an old lake. Tamara took the rubber entrance mats, laying them across the broken window’s frame, and with the help of other librarians, began to pull people to safety.
The man was first. Halfway out, he bowed his leg, severely cutting it against a jagged piece of glass. He bled badly, and Tamara had to run back for the first aid kit; she bandaged his leg up. Next was an elderly woman who couldn’t get out by herself. But they were able to slowly get her above the threshold and pull her trough. When the entire group did get out, they found themselves marooned atop a little knoll with the water still rising and nowhere to run.
Waiting on 12th Avenue Bay, I witnessed several helicopters landing with rescued townsfolk; the local Sobeys’ employees still donned in their green work aprons as they rushed from the chopper. Then a boat came in with a man completely drenched and half alive. They called for an ambulance; more boats and more helicopters kept coming with more people, but none were my wife.
Then there was a rumbling. Being a rural town, the dealerships also specialized in tractors and big machinery. Without hesitation, they lent them out to the firemen and rescuers. The crowd behind me all watched as a giant combine bulldozed through the water, slowly making its way to the other side.
Some firemen came riding on a forklift with a board laying across the forks as a makeshift bench. They found my wife’s group. Two of the men selflessly gave up their spots to save the stranded party. They went down a back alley through the deep water and made their way past the Hitchin’ Post burger shack, and over to high ground: an office building. There they ran into the combine that took them back to where I was standing.
After making it home, our neighbor, a bylaw officer, gave us the heads up that an evacuation order for the entire town was going out. We packed up as quickly as possible and drove through the high waters to our family in Okotoks.
If you were to go by High River today, you’d see a lake where friends of mine once lived. And where school children walked with backpacks and rode on bikes, you’d see heavily armed soldiers and tanks. Our downtown was the occasional set for the TV show Heartland, now it looks like a set for The Walking Dead. As I type this, I’m sitting at a laptop listening to our mayor giving an update. I just learned that a friend of our family was among the dead, and everyone is sad. We’re all still waiting to go home, and we’ll all still be waiting — even after we’re back in our houses.