CALGARY, Alberta — Alberta's premier pledged $1 billion on Monday to help people recover from floods that devastated parts of the western Canadian province.
The money will be used to support those who have been evacuated, run relief centers and start rebuilding, said Premier Alison Redford.
Redford has called it the worst flooding in Alberta's history and said rebuilding could take 10 years.
Three bodies have been recovered since the flooding began last Thursday in southern Alberta.
The government said it will provide pre-loaded debit cards to displaced residents to help with their immediate housing needs and day-to-day purchases. Those who qualify will receive $1,250 per adult and $500 per child.
Redford said the unforeseen expense means the oil-rich Alberta won't meet its plans to balance the budget in the coming years.
"The world changed Thursday morning and I think as a Treasury Board we've come to terms with that. We think Albertans have come to terms with that." Redford said. "This is like nothing we have ever faced before and we are up to the challenge."
Redford said the rebuilding could take 10 years.
"I don't want to scare people. But when we talk about what's going to happen, we're talking about a 10-year plan. And we're committed to make sure we're going to take the time to do that right," she said.
Torrential rain last week filled up creeks and rivers that were unable to contain so much water in such a short time and surged over their banks to inundate communities throughout much of southern Alberta.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday nearly all of the roughly 75,000 people who fled overflowing water from Bow and Elbow rivers can return home. He had announced Sunday that 65,000 could go home. Nenshi said only people who live in the downtown area and in a small area in the Inglewood neighborhood east of the city's downtown are still being kept out.
Nenshi said people should stay away from the closed section of downtown so that the area can be re-opened as soon as possible.
He's warning that people need to be cautious as they return – many houses won't have utility service. Nenshi urged people to keep their spirits up as their neighbors experience the pain of returning to damaged homes.
People in High River, the community hardest hit by the flooding, didn't have much reason for optimism. Mayor Emile Blokland said there was still no timeline for when 13,000 evacuees would be able to return. He said he understood their frustration, but explained that the town's infrastructure had suffered a "critical blow" and every house needed to be inspected.
Officials in the eastern Alberta city of Medicine Hat said Monday water levels on the South Saskatchewan River have peaked and that flooding won't be as severe as initially feared. Roughly 10,000 people were evacuated as the city of 60,000 prepared for the surge of water that swamped Calgary and surrounding areas last week.
Ron Robinson, director of emergency measures in Medicine Hat, said the city is starting to turn its attention to recovery.
Some 1,000 homes have been hit by high water. About 1,500 people have registered at the city's emergency center and accommodation has been provided for about 600. Medicine Hat Mayor Norm Boucher said it will be at least several days before anyone can go home.
Back in Calgary, the president of the Calgary Stampede said the world-famous event will go ahead next week "come hell or high water." Bob Thompson said crews have been pumping millions of liters of water from the rodeo and fair grounds. Nearly a million people attend it every year.
"Throughout our entire history, we have never cancelled a show, despite two wars and a Great Depression – 2013 will be no exception," Thompson said at a news conference.