Seniors, still struggling

Topics: Alberta, Emergencies and Disasters in Canada
(Diana Coulter, Public Information Officer for Alberta Floods recovery) | March 20, 2014

Jane Sampson

Jane Sampson has moved seven times in the months since flood waters forced her to flee her High River seniors’ residence. The constant upheaval and uncertainty have taken a toll on the 85-year-old. 

“I have to admit that I have been pretty low some times. I have thought to myself, I don’t know what’s going to become of me,” she says.

Like Sampson, a significant number of Alberta seniors are still experiencing difficulty since the June 2013 disaster. Red Cross recovery supervisors report that seniors currently represent a considerable portion of their caseloads. In Calgary and Medicine Hat, about 400 Red Cross clients are seniors and older adults, while the number is slightly higher in High River.

Sampson lives alone on a fixed income with no close family in Alberta. Originally from Manitoba, she has been in High River for 25 years and is determined to stay because “I have built a life here.” Help from friends, old and new, made the difference, she says.

“I knew I had a lot of acquaintances here, but some turned out to be real friends.”

Sampson first met Red Cross staff at an evacuation centre after a traumatic flood rescue. The June day eventually found her perched atop a massive combine being shuttled from the flooded town library.

Just ten days earlier, she had moved into a seniors’ residence and hadn’t fully unpacked when evacuation warnings started. She threw clothes in a bag and planned to wait at the library. But before long, staff were piling books on upper shelves and discussing their escape.

Two young women managed to wade, almost shoulder-deep, to notify firefighters of trapped people in the library. After the combine rescue, Sampson was taken by bus to the Red Cross Reception Centre in Nanton, where she was billeted at a century-old cattle ranch.

Later, Sampson spent five days with a friend in Nanton, about five weeks with another pal in Okotoks, and was offered a trailer in the temporary community of Saddlebrook. But she chose to stay with a lady she knew from the local pool, then with a couple who ran her favourite coffee house. Now, Sampson has rented a “somewhat pricey” condo. “Everybody has been just so excellent, but it’s a lot of moving around and I’m pretty tired.”

The Red Cross is helping Sampson with some expenses and life is returning to normal, especially since the library and local pool, where she swam regularly, have reopened. “For a while, it felt like my old life was gone, but I’m feeling better and the Red Cross played a part in that.”

Many seniors are still facing a “massive struggle and feelings of dislocation” months after the floods, says High River mayor Craig Snodgrass. Several large seniors’ residences were damaged and aren’t likely to reopen for a few years.

The Canadian Red Cross continues to be “extremely important to our town right now, just helping seniors to access programs and services,” said Snodgrass.