Three journalists from the Calgary Herald watched their cars get swept away by floodwaters while reporting on the scene. The entire CBC Calgary newsroom was evacuated and found a temporary home elsewhere so that broadcasts could continue. Those are just a couple of examples of what news organizations and their journalists went through to cover the worst flood in Alberta’s history.

Three journalists from the Calgary Herald watched their cars get swept away by floodwaters while reporting on the scene. The entire CBC Calgary newsroom was evacuated and found a temporary home elsewhere so that broadcasts could continue. Those are just a couple of examples of what news organizations and their journalists went through to cover the worst flood in Alberta’s history.

By Eric Mark Do

It’s Thursday morning and a state of emergency has just been called for Canmore, Alberta. Calgary Herald managing editor Monica Zurowski reaches out to freelancers to cover the story because the main route to get there, on the TransCanada highway, is closed and several back roads are flooded. Reports keep coming in of flooding in High River, one of the hardest hit areas.  By late morning, the realization sets in that these aren’t isolated cases — “we were talking about a massive flood.”

It’s time to mobilize the news team because it’s apparent that the flood is heading to Calgary. It takes the city by surprise because, despite heavy rainfall the day before, there had been no significant flood warnings Wednesday night, says Zurowski.

Zurowski deployed at least six  Herald journalists  staff to High River.  “All of a sudden the water started rising so quickly. We had not just the challenges of covering the story — we had real concerns for those people's safety.” A reporter and a photographer working on the scene in separate areas of town had to run for safety when the water came in. Then they could do nothing but watch as their cars got washed away. Another journalist was driving his car with a fellow reporter when the RCMP told them to get out of the area.

“There were two cars ahead of them and (they) started to float away,” says Zurowski, “and the RCMP had to yell at them: ‘Get out of your cars! GET OUT OF YOUR CARS!’” They got out and were helped to safety by an RCMP officer in the thigh-deep water.  


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Evacuation order

About one out of every 12 Calgarians were forced to leave their homes, about the same rate as the Herald’s staff. The newsroom itself was safe from the flood path.  

But the same couldn’t be said for CBC Calgary. On Thursday night, CBC Calgary had to evacuate its newsroom because it was vulnerable to significant flooding; furthermore,  almost a third of he employees were forced from their homes.

A makeshift newsroom was set up at SAIT Polytechnic and the CBC broadcasted programs from there until about 7 p.m. Sunday night.

“Folks at SAIT were phenomenal,” says Alan Thorgeirson, director of programming out of Calgary, adding that they provided CBC staff with meals, IT support and more. “They just went way above and beyond.”

Even though staff are back at the CBC Calgary newsroom (which was not damaged), not everyone is back home. According to Thorgeirson, it might be a month before Russell Bowers, host of Daybreak Alberta, will be able to be back in his place. Other staff have been more lucky: David Grey, host of Calgary Eyeopener and CBC Calgary’s managing editor, Helen Henderson, were able to get back into their homes Sunday.

In a rare move, CBC and Rogers reached an agreement to simulcast on Saturday “in order to, in the public interest, to get as much information to as many people as possible,” says Thorgeirson. City Calgary and City Edmonton carried the CBC News’ coverage of the flood following Saturday’s hockey game.

A radio station in Calgary, NewsTalk 770, also simulcast during the flood but it was criticized by its own host because the station was using the feed from Edmonton-based sister station CHED630. Dave Rutherford told listeners on Monday, June 24 he would "completely understand if you went elsewhere for your information.” One day later his show was permanently cancelled by Corus Radio. The talk show was scheduled to end July 26. 

NewsTalk 770 was evacuated from its headquarters in downtown Calgary and Rutherford was broadcasting from a home studio. Rutherford expressed disappointment that Corus continued to put music on the air during the flood. 

The severity of the Calgary flood felt eerily familier for veteran broadcaster Thorgeirson: he covered the flood in Winnipeg in 1997 that was called the “Flood of the Century.” The Alberta one, he said, “is much bigger in scope and the impact on the community.”

Still, the news media have a job to do even when its own members are affected by disaster.

“When the mayor said ‘leave work; go home; stay in your house; stay off the road,’ most Calgarians other than emergency personnel can follow that kind of advice,” says Zurowski. “As journalists we can't — it means we're just gearing up.”

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