Northeast communities appeal for emergency storm funding

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A group of northeast Calgary communities hammered by extreme hail and flood damage is appealing to Premier Jason Kenney for help in recovering from the savage storm .

A letter dated June 21 sent to the premier by seven communities, as well as religious and cultural groups, urges the premier to designate the June 13 event a disaster, an action that could free up federal relief funds.

Community activist Khalil Karbani, whose Taradale home was ravaged by hail and water, said tens of thousands of households are desperate for financial assistance often not covered by insurance.

“There isn’t a home north of McKnight Boulevard that wasn’t affected,” said Karbani.

“This lobbying is to everyone’s mutual benefit — we’re already struggling with the crisis of the oil downturn and this is over and above what people can cope with.”

The city says the damage from the furious storm that also flooded Deerfoot Trail and other roadways and hammered municipal infrastructure will likely exceed $1 billion .

Karbani said insurance deductibles and property depreciation mean many affected homeowners will only be partly covered by insurance payments that are coming slowly.

His own home, he said, probably suffered $20,000 in hail and water damage, while a vehicle pummelled by hail is likely a writeoff.

Panes of two windows in his home were shattered by huge hailstones, “and we were trying to block them with mattresses but drywall was damaged literally from 15 minutes of storm,” said Karbani.

The storm produced the largest hail on record in the city, up to 61 millimetres across.

Others he’s been in contact with in the area are far worse off, he said, including one widow who expressed desperation over the storm’s toll.

“She’s living by herself, crying, she didn’t know how she would get through this — she has no family,” said Karbani.

“This is going to have a huge psychological effect on people.”

Those northeast Calgary communities should be treated like Fort McMurray and High River, which were quickly granted disaster designations after being victimized by fires and flooding, he added.

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said the city is pushing to determine what criteria are needed to have assistance also flow from the provincial Disaster Recovery Program.

“It’s important to see what the ask is and what the program will cover and, if something’s not under that criteria, what do we do for those businesses and families severely impacted,” he said.

A resident of the Cornerstone area said his home insurance had lapsed after he’d been laid off due to the COVID-19 lockdown and he was on the verge of renewing it when the storm hit.

He’s been left with no coverage to address about $20,000 worth of damage to his home, on top of a damaged vehicle.

“My blood pressure is going to blow up . . . the government should help,” said Farooq, a father of three who didn’t give his last name.

Saddle Ridge resident Misha Dukic said he also suffered significant damage to his vehicles, home and yard, adding his neighbours aren’t as well insured as he is.

“I don’t think insurance is going to be very forthcoming . . . given the COVID-19 and economic downturn, finances will be an issue. A lot of people around here have lost their jobs,” he said.

“Something should be done (by government), I’ve never seen something like that and I’m 55, I’ve lived in many countries and seen a lot of storms.”

The province is working to connect affected businesses and homeowners with their insurance providers and “fully expects insurance companies to step up and deliver for residents who purchased insurance for situations just like these,” Municipal Affairs spokesman Timothy Gerwing said in a statement.

“The government is prepared to act further, should it be necessary.”

Last weekend, Kenney toured storm-ravaged areas of Calgary’s northeast but didn’t commit to declaring a natural disaster.

The Opposition NDP has called on the province to issue that disaster declaration , saying the government has turned its back on northeast residents.

“Jason Kenney has abandoned those impacted by the hailstorm. He keeps telling Calgarians to talk to their insurance provider, but clearly that isn’t enough,” said Irfan Sabir, MLA for Calgary-McCall.

“Many people were uninsured or underinsured after facing job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, this is just one disaster on top of another.”

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