February 28th, 2024

City officials breaking down how departments responded to storm

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 26, 2022.

Dave Olsen was visiting a family member in Cypress County Alberta when extreme wind and a tornado reportedly touches down, destroying the house he was staying in and peeling the sticker off the license on his otherwise undamaged truck. - NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

City officials are breaking down how utility, emergency and social support departments responded after a tornado sliced through the area on July 18.

Monday’s meeting of the public services committee was provided a detailed update on the situation and the response, including an initial look at the damage.

Public services commissioner Brian Mastel said the storm impacts were more significant outside the city than within, but required coordinated response.

“When an event of scale occurs and draws on resources at a level that’s beyond what normal operations are capable of, and spanning across a number different areas, we look to the emergency management group to help,” said Mastel.

“There wasn’t a local state of emergency called, but we did stand up an emergency operations centre.”

Fire Chief Brian Stauth said fire service crews joined their county counterparts initially to help in search and rescue efforts on acreages in Cypress County shortly after the early afternoon storm.

Their search of properties damaged in the afternoon storm found relatively few injuries and no fatalities from what was initially determined to be a plow wind. The department then fell in under the emergency operations centre that created a systematic plan to assess damage, deal with calls and prioritize repairs.

Utility crews replaced 71 broken poles over the next five days to fully restore power in the city’s franchise area, including Redcliff and areas of the county.

“The damage certainly was extensive,” said Stauth, citing that some poles were replaced after a north-end grass fire in 2021. A release later in the day stated two substations, and transformers were also down for times.

“Some of the poles were only a year old, so that tells you the immense force that Mother Nature brought to the area,” said Stauth.

Director Leah Prestayko said community development was in communication with the Red Cross, which set up temporary residence for county families left without shelter, and began work to set up cooling centres for the general population.

That would have moved forward had the power outage lingered or hot weather worsened.

Responding to committee questions, Prestayko said day-use centres may have been created in up to a half-dozen city buildings. Overnight accommodation for seniors without air conditioning may have been created at the Big Marble Go Centre fieldhouse,

“Fortunately that wasn’t needed,” said Prestayko.

The city has an agreement with Medicine Hat College to host a reception centre for victims of natural disasters. Red Cross also employs hotels for temporary shelter.

“Infrastructure is expensive, but the No. 1 thing in my mind is how people fared,” said committee member Allison Knodel.

Parks official Scott Richter said the storm forced the shutdown of facilities as it occurred – the Go Centre lost power for about an hour and was evacuated that afternoon, while Hill Pool and Gas City Campground were without power temporarily.

Most debris has been picked up after the city dealt with 175 calls from residents about downed or dangerous trees in parks and on boulevards.

The loss of power at Echo Dale Regional Park shut down the filtration and circulation system at the swim lake for five days, as well as its irrigation system. Trees planted this year to replace losses in a 2017 wind storm were being watered manually, said Richter

There were a few people in the park at the time of the storm, but no injuries were reported. Now city and private crews are systematically moving across the park, assessing trees and clearing downed trees and branches.

Richter also said the initial count is that 60 mature trees were lost, but “we won’t know (a final number) for a few days.”

“We had a pretty aggressive planting plan there as well, so that will expedite that,” he added.

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