When Disaster Strikes – State of Emergency in Calgary

Calgary Flood Before Photo

Calgary’s Bow River on June 17th 2013

Calgary Flood - Bow River After

Calgary’s Bow River on June 21st 2013

Calgary Floods 2013

Calgary Floods 2013 June 17th

Calgary Flood 2013

Calgary Floods 2013 June 21st

State of Emergency in Calgary

My home city of Calgary and surrounding areas in Southern Alberta are under a state of emergency today. There is mass flooding from heavy rains and run-off of winter snow from the mountains. More than 100,000 people have had to be evacuated. Even the downtown core has had to be shut down. It’s disasters like this that really make me understand what is most important in life.

My wife and I are in Calgary now for the summer, but we are safe. We have plenty of food and water, electricity and internet are working in our area, but a good section of the city has had water, electricity and gas turned off.

Local rivers are at record heights and are expected to stay high for several more days. Roads to the west of the city are flooded over so many people are stranded in neighbouring cities.

There will undoubtedly be hundreds of millions of dollars of damage with many completely losing their homes. Luckily there have only been a few fatalities in the province and none so far in Calgary. This is a major disaster, but it’s worth putting in perspective.

Canada is a very wealthy country with highly trained emergency response crews. Despite the magnitude of the calamity, very few people have been injured or killed. In contrast, the current flooding in India has claimed more than 600 lives.

There are major runs on supermarkets as everyone stocks up on food, drinking water and other supplies for an unknown duration. However, there are certainly no shortages. Large trucks were unloading more goods as we shopped.

I’ve never seen the local supermarket this busy, however, right across the street, people are casually eating lunch at restaurants. People are preparing for the worse, but the situation is far from desperate.

What’s Most Important in Life?

In my last post, I talked about What it Means to be Good Human. That question has become much more poignant to me in that last 24 hours. So many of us, particularly those in oil rich Calgary, seem to have lives focused on conspicuous consumption. This is a city of over-sized suburban houses, massive 4X4 trucks and a lifestyle heavily focused on accumulating material possessions.

In times of disaster, our focus is shifted to what is most important. The safety of our families and basic supplies of food and water become the main concerns. It’s great to see how the community rallies to help each other. Too bad we don’t have those values and levels of connection in our normal lives. Why does it require a disaster to make us see what’s important?

Without health, personal safety and close relationships with family and friends, the rest of our lives don’t matter very much. That’s obvious when tragedy strikes, yet most of our lives are spent in vain and destructive pursuits. We all too often sacrifice our personal health and relationships just to buy more stuff.

Calgary will be Okay

This is one of Canada’s wealthiest cities, in a very wealthy country. Massive amounts of money will be donated to the RedCross. Home owners have insurance and will be able to replace lost possessions. Calgary will rebuild quickly.

Other areas of the world are not so fortunate. There are still close to 2 billion people in the world that live on less than $2 per day. Their entire lives are a tragedy that goes largely ignored while the developed world is shopping and watching TV.

There are so many smart and talented focused on largely socially useless businesses. Think of what we could accomplish if those skills were redirected to solving the most pressing problems in the world. We could provide clean water, sufficient food and basic literacy to the entire planet with a very minor shift in resources from richer countries.

As we move forward, do we get our lives back to normal? Or, do we begin to alter our consumption and work to drive more meaning and purpose in our lives?  We have that choice. We just need the courage to do the right thing.

Stay safe Calgary.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

7 Responses to When Disaster Strikes – State of Emergency in Calgary

  1. Cheryl says:

    Hi John, I am living in Calgary at present, and I agree with your comments. Calgary will rebuild quickly. People flocked in droves to gather up all the bottled water before the day ended today. It comes down to the basic needs that we all require to survive. Calgary will be back to normal in no time, as insurance kicks in, we will all be back to work and put back to sleep as many here work to pay for the over-sized houses, massive trucks and all the stuff or comforts that they think they need.

    • John says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. All the flooding in Calgary is surreal. I never expected this level of devastation to happen in my home city. Fortunately, this town has the resources and talent to rebuild quickly. I hope we can grow as a city from this.

  2. Eugene says:

    Hey John, glad to hear you guys are ok. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments about what is truly important. The insanity that is the endless cycle of consumption makes people work incredibly hard for stuff they don’t really need and then causes them a mountain of stress when they worry about whether or not they’re going to lose it. The less stuff you have the less stress you have.

    My wife and I are traveling in Thailand at the moment and the local people here are such an inspiration in this regard. You see so many shop fronts with the mom and dad selling food up front with the bed and the kids in the back of the store. At first our “Western” response to this is pity but they don’t sit in traffic for 2 hours a day to be front of a PC so that they can buy a bunch of stuff they then need to insure. They get to spend time with their family and don’t have half the stress a “normal” western family have. I’m not saying it’s all peaches and cream but there’s a lesson to be learned there. Mai pen rai

    • John says:

      Hi Eugene,

      I love countries like Thailand because they have such a rich culture compared to wealthier countries. People actually take time to spend with friends and family. Community events and festivals are not commercially driven. Owners work in stores. People are friendly and take time to help.

      In countries like Canada and the US, we are so preoccupied by profits and productivity that we seem to sacrifice our families and communities.

      I’ve said it before, but I feel we have a lot more to learn from countries like Thailand, than they do from us.

  3. Hey John,

    I went through the floods in Queensland Australia, It’s tough, no doubt. My best wishes to all.

  4. Glad to hear that you and your wife are safe John. I have family there too and luckily they are fine as well. It has been shocking to see the images in the news. You think stuff like this doesn’t happen in good old Canada. But like you said, the response will be swift and there will be lots of support. All the best.

    • John says:

      Thanks Nathan,
      It is hard to believe. We see all the flooding and damage on TV, yet in our part of the city, everything seems normal.

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