Image
© Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix
Alana Wasylenko found a quiet moment with her dog in a Hampton Village park, after the area was hit hard by Tuesday's storm
Saskatoon residents are continuing the cleanup from the torrents of water that rolled through the city early Wednesday morning, leaving hundreds of basements flooded, dozens of vehicles destroyed and a multitude of businesses mopping up in the aftermath of the worst flooding in decades.

Among the wild events: A manhole cover shot through the bottom of a moving city bus; small vehicles and garbage containers were reportedly floating down streets in Confederation Park, where flood water submerged cars; and nearly one metre of storm water rushed down streets and into businesses and offices in the city centre.

Eighty to 100 millimetres of rain fell on Saskatoon during a three-hour period, according to the city, bringing back memories of June 24, 1983. On that day, 93 mm of rain fell -- 75 mm during a 45-minute span. A woman died that day, after her car was submerged in a road underpass.

A special city council meeting will be held this morning when council members are expected to pass a motion to apply for disaster relief from the province, potentially helping those reeling from huge losses from the flood.

West Side Hit Hard

The storm's aftermath was felt across the city but was most pronounced once again in the low-lying areas of Confederation Park and Dundonald, where many residents experienced major flooding in 2005 and 2007, a problem many believed had been fixed through city infrastructure investments.

The city invested millions during the last five years to fix the problem, but residents were once again pumping their basements through Thursday afternoon.

Yards were heaped with destroyed belongings -- mattresses, stereo speakers, clothing, children's toys, teddy bears, Christmas ornaments, furniture, appliances, baby swings and boxes of books and other items.

The storm that blew through the city late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning was a result of an unstable air mass moving across the Prairies, said Bill McMurtry, a Calgary-based meteorologist with Environment Canada.

As the system reached Rosetown it began to intensify, he said, and by the time it reached Saskatoon between 11 p.m. and midnight it brought with it heavy rain downpours, strong wind gusts and massive hailstones, some approaching the size of tennis balls.

The storm caused power outages in Perdue, Elrose and the Grasswoods area, south of Saskatoon. In Saskatoon, the Avalon, Exhibition, Adelaide, Churchill, Nutana and Brevoort Park neighbourhoods experienced power outages ranging from 30 minutes to three hours.

During April, May and June, 370 mm of rain fell in the Saskatoon area, nearly triple the three-month average of 134 mm of precipitation, according to Environment Canada. "The ground is saturated; it can't buffer a lot more precipitation," McMurtry said.

Complexes Flood

Residents of Westridge Village, a social housing complex on the corner of Confederation and Laurier drives, were coping again with sewage in dozens of basements, leading many to suggest it's time to give up for good on occupying the low-lying area.

The storm breached the massive storm pond across the street, rising on the lawns to just below the front door of several units and spilling into basements.

Dozens of vehicles in the area were submerged by water, ruining electrical and mechanical systems and rendering them undriveable.

"We couldn't rescue anything," said Nettie Brown, 39, a Westridge Village resident.

Her two daughters, Shelley, 14, and Erica, 2, were sleeping in the basement when the flooding hit. Her daughter's bed was an island surrounded by nearly waist-deep, murky, green-brown water. Her deep freeze was overturned and floating, while her washing machine was almost completely under water.

Without insurance, she doesn't know how the family will recover from the losses, she said.

"It's a (bad) situation," she said. "I guess you have to laugh it off."

More than half of the 90 remaining rental units at Westridge Village were flooded, said Saskatoon Housing Authority general manager Jim Wasilenko. The cleanout began Wednesday -- water will be pumped out and units disinfected before people are moved back in, Wasilenko said. Residents were housed in hotels while damage was sorted out.

It's the latest in a long string of floods for the units, a point that angered many residents who thought the problem was fixed by the giant flood pond.

Supertanks Fill Up

The supertanks in the sanitary sewer system, with a 3.5-million-litre capacity, were supposed to be able to withstand any storm. They were overwhelmed, however, with the additional water escaping out of manholes and onto the streets in the Dundonald and Confederation neighbourhoods.

Mayor Don Atchison on Wednesday didn't put any blame on the massive tanks that were built with money from the flood levy. "Let's be clear: The super-pipes didn't fail. They worked," he said. "This was a one-in-a-hundred-years storm."

City engineer Galen Heinrichs said the tanks were holding up fine until the last wave of rain hit after midnight. "It finished us off with the finale," he said, adding that the half-hour of rain "completely saturated and overwhelmed the system."

Few people or institutions were unscathed by the heavy rainfall.

The Saskatoon Field House was flooded with more than five centimetres of water and the track is being assessed on a day-to-day basis to determine when it will reopen to the public. The upstairs fitness room of the field house, however, will reopen today.

City officials are recommending the public use either the Terry Fox soccer fields or the Shaw Leisure Centre until the field house is fully operational.

In one of the bizarre occurrences, a manhole cover was pushed with such force by the storm it blew a hole in the floor of a moving city bus in Silverwood just after midnight.

"It was a freak occurrence," said transit manager Mitch Riabko. "Certainly something we've never experienced before."

U of S Hit Hard

The University of Saskatchewan is weathering the storm after its Education building, Western College of Veterinary Medicine building and Place Riel Student Centre were flooded.

"In one area we had six inches of soupy mud that needs to be dealt with," said Colin Tennent, associate vice-president of facilities management. Place Riel was hit the hardest by flooding, he said. The centre was already under renovations before the flood, which left it more susceptible. The lower level of Place Riel is currently closed and workers brought water pumps and dehumidifiers into the area to clean it up.

The primary responsibility, however, falls on the contractor doing renovations to Place Riel, said Tennent.

Saskatoon Health Region was also working to minimize water damage to three major facilities.

Royal University Hospital, Parkridge Centre long-term care facility and St. Paul's Hospital were affected, said Dan Swerhone, the health region's acting director of facilities services. All three facilities experienced water seepage in their basements after the sub pumps were overwhelmed, he said.

"Mainly the water came at us at such a high level that the pumps that keep water away from buildings couldn't keep up and the sub pumps couldn't empty the water into the drains as fast as needed," he said.

Water came through some of the drains as well, he said, with the system struggling to keep up.

At Midtown Plaza, heavy rain overwhelmed the eavestroughs and found its way into several businesses located near the food court.

At Ardene, an accessory and clothing store, water poured from the roof, collapsing the ceiling, ruining one-third of the store's clothing and destroying the laminate floor.

Chantal Tuttroen, assistant manager, was cleaning up soaked ceiling tiles for hours Wednesday.

"Mother nature is angry," Tuttroen said. "It's been a bad year for her."

Downtown was hit hard by the flood, as the water reached a depth of one metre as it made its way down some city centre streets, according to security video and submitted photos.

Most businesses down Second Avenue had merchandise damaged.

Flights Delayed

Bernard Surprenant of Smiley was on an Air Canada flight to Saskatoon from Edmonton when he saw the storm hit the city from his bird's-eye-view in the airplane.

"You could see (lightning) forks hitting the city -- just right down in," Surprenant said Wednesday morning.

"The cloud was just like a flashbulb -- off and on, off and on, that's all you could see," he said.

Despite the proximity to the storm, Surprenant said turbulence on the plane was minimal and he was never frightened. The flight was diverted to Regina and passengers were bussed to Saskatoon.

Bill Restall, president and CEO of the Saskatoon Airport Authority, said several flights were diverted from landing at the facility on Tuesday night. This caused delays Wednesday morning as planes set to overnight in Saskatoon were not in the city, he said.

Operations returned to normal by Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Festival Weathers Storm

Good timing helped the 2010 SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival weather the storm.

There was only one outdoor event scheduled Tuesday night. When lightning approached, organizers shut down the free stage at 9:20 p.m., about 25 minutes ahead of schedule. One hour later, things got wild.

Security guards on site downtown had a long night, said artistic director Kevin Tobin. At one point, the water was almost up to the first step of the Vimy Memorial Bandshell.

"They said the water was coming into Kiwanis Park down 20th Street. It was unbelievable."

There was also an "intense blow into the Gardens" behind the Delta Bessborough Hotel. Water built up in the bowl, although it wasn't a significant amount.

The Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan site "took a bit of a beating,'' in the storm, said publicist Trevor Broughton.

One of the smaller tavern tents was badly damaged and some of the landscaping, which volunteers were working on earlier in the day, was washed away.

The main tent where the plays will be performed starting next week came out fine, however.