“I got home from work Thursday afternoon and along with everybody else I started watching TV and the big rescues going on in High River and I saw the boats they were using up there and I just thought to myself I’ve got to get up there with my boat. I have a specially equipped boat that’s just for shallow water and they were using that type of boat up there and they didn’t have enough there,” said Somerville, who is an avid river boater. Somerville noted he practically lives on the river every weekend, so he had the experience to help out.
“That’s why I was confident with going up there. I knew what my boat could do. You don’t want to get up there and have to be rescued yourself.”
After going online on his computer, Somerville found out the High River RCMP required shallow water boats so after getting in touch with the RCMP, he quickly made his way to the flood zone and started rescuing residents from their flooded homes. He returned to the water-drenched area the following Friday morning to find a different part of the neighbourhood flooded, which flooded over the Thursday night before. “Thursday night people went to bed in this neighbourhood and Friday morning they woke up and they were completely surrounded by water,” said Somerville.
“We just did what we had to do. We just cruised the neighbourhoods with our boats and cruised back alleys and just found people in their houses that were stuck in their houses,” said Somerville, adding he rescued about 30 people, which were mostly seniors and their pets.
“We pulled up to one lady’s house and we said ‘come on, you’ve got to come with us,’ and me and a firefighter were together in my boat, and she said ‘I’m not leaving without my pets,’ and we just said ‘well, let’s get them in the boat,’ and she said ‘I have seven cats and three dogs.’ The firefighter and I just looked at each other and said ‘whatever, let’s just get in the boat and let’s get out of here.’ So we packed up seven cats and three dogs and got her back to safety. It was intense stuff. You’re just dealing with frazzled people already that were just getting more frazzled,” said Somerville. “It was surreal.”
Somerville said it was absolutely devastating, that a town the size of Taber was under water. He noted the rescuers cruised by million dollar homes that were flooded to the roof and most garage doors were blown out, from which Somerville believes was possibly caused from the pressure of the water flowing into the homes. According to Somerville, the houses were either half-way filled up the walls with water or filled right to the roof.
“It was great to be a part of it but I definitely don’t want to do that very often,” confessed Somerville, adding he doesn’t know how residents and the town can fix all the devastation brought on by the flood, except for maybe flattening it all out and starting all over.
“It was just unbelievable. Stuff floating everywhere and we were driving by cars and all you could see was their roof racks.”
The life-saving volunteer said where water was flowing Thursday night, on Friday morning all the water was cleared up and he said you could see where the rescuers were boating including the cars, parking lots and the streets.
“It was too weird. If you weren’t there it’s kind of hard to explain,” said Somerville. “We were cruising areas Thursday, and Friday I was talking to a fireman and I pointed out that I thought this was the river bottom and he said ‘no this isn’t the river. The river’s on the other side of town.”
Residents in High River, saved by Somerville and the rescue teams, were quiet but thankful for being brought to safety and as a whole Somerville believes Albertans do what they have to do to help one another in emergency situations. “I think that’s what we do, when people are in need, we go help in whatever way we can.”
Overall, for such a big rescue event, Somerville thinks the High River fire department was crack-on and running on all cylinders during the rescue efforts.
“There was no waiting around. I showed up with my boat and they said ‘let’s put you to work right now,” said the Taberite.
“Both days, when I showed up, within five minutes I had my boat in the water and doing rescues. They were so organized. I was so impressed by that.”