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Flooding forces 75,000 from homes

CALGARY, Alberta – Calgary’s mayor said Friday the flooding situation in his city is as under control as it can be – for now. Officials estimated 75,000 people have been displaced in the western Canadian city.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the Elbow River, one of two rivers that flow through the southern Alberta city, has peaked.

And if things don’t change, officials expect that the flow on the Bow River – which, in his words, looks like “an ocean at the moment” – will remain steady for the next 12 hours.

No deaths have been reported, but many roads and underpasses have been washed. In the downtown, water is lapping at the doors of the Saddledome, home to the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, and inundating homes and businesses in the shadow of skyscrapers.

Water has swamped cars and train tracks

An estimated 75,000 residents in 25 neighborhoods lying along the rivers have been ordered out of their homes in Calgary, a city of more than a million people that hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.

About 1,500 have gone to emergency shelters, while the rest have found shelter with family or friends, Nenshi said.

Nenshi said earlier he’s never seen the rivers that high or that fast.

Police urged people to stay away from downtown and not go to work.

Officials said lions and tigers from the Calgary Zoo may need to be transferred to prisoner holding cells at the downtown courthouse.

Schools have been cancelled and residents urged to avoid downtown. Transit service through the downtown has been shut down.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised the province will help flood victims put their lives back together and provide financial aid to communities that need to rebuild.

The premier said at a briefing that she has spoken to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is heading to Calgary and has promised disaster relief. She urged people to heed evacuation orders so authorities could do their jobs. She called the flooding that has hit most of southern Alberta an “absolutely tragic situation."

The premier warned that communities downstream of Calgary have not yet felt the full force of the floodwaters.

It had been a rainy week throughout much of Alberta, but on Thursday the Bow River Basin was battered with up to 4 inches of rain. Environment Canada’s forecast calls for more rain in the area, but in much smaller amounts.

Calgary is not alone in its weather-related woes. There have been flashpoints of chaos from Banff and Canmore and Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies and south to Lethbridge.

More than a dozen towns have declared states of emergency. Entire communities, including High River and Bragg Creek near Calgary are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Some of the worst flooding hit High River, where it’s estimated half of the people in the town have experienced flooding in their homes.

Military helicopters plucked about 30 people off rooftops in the area. Others were rescued by boat or in buckets of heavy machinery. Some even swam for their lives from stranded cars.

A spokesperson for Defense Minister Peter MacKay said 354 soldiers are being deployed to the entire flood zone.

Pictures from inside the mountain town of Canmore show a raging river ripping at the foundations of homes.

Near Black Diamond on Thursday, the Highwood River swept away two people in a mobile home. One person, a man, was found, but the second – a woman – is still missing.

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