MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - The month-long volunteer-driven clean up effort launched after a tornado tore a path of destruction across a huge tract of Mountain View County north of Carstairs on Canada Day has been a shining example of outstanding community effort, says volunteer coordinator Dianne Engel-Kimmel.
Hundreds of volunteers from across the district and beyond have spent thousands of hours removing debris with glove-covered hands and heavy equipment as part of recovery work.
The storm was focused in the Highway 2A and Highway 581 area about two kilometres north of Cartairs, which is in large part occupied by farms and ranches.
More than a dozen homes were heavily damaged, including several that were completely destroyed. The twister also toppled and shattered barns and outbuildings, overturned vehicles and other farm equipment including silos, and tore up fencing.
A Mountain View County resident with a background in the oilpatch, Engel-Kimmel has been the volunteer coordinator of the clean up effort since the early days of the disaster.
What has been done over the past month in terms of volunteer community effort has been nothing less than amazing, she said.
“What has been done here in Mountain View County is absolutely incredible,” Engel-Kimmel told the Albertan. “It has been phenomenal and I am very proud of the outpouring of support of everybody who has been involved in helping these families. It has been incredible generosity.”
The clean up has been conducted entirely by volunteers, including Engel-Kimmel herself, with people coming out from every part of the county and from other communities far and wide.
“It’s been hundreds and hundreds of people volunteering,” she said. “I’ve had people come from Calgary, Chestermere, Linden, Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House, every corner of Mountain View County and many other places.”
The cleanup effort at more than a dozen damaged farm properties has been exhaustive in terms of human efforts, with teams of volunteers working together to collect and gather many thousands of kilograms of debris, she said.
“We try to do a grid system so we are covering a focused area,” she said “We dump the debris in a central area and then we get a skid steer or a grapple fork that can put it into one of the big waste bins or into burn pits approved by Mountain View County, or into a metal pile.
“It’s as systematic as it can be in a chaotic situation. There is so much mixed material scattered together,” she said.
The debris has included broken glass and shingles, smashed household furniture and appliances, fence posts, drywall, destroyed farm vehicles and other equipment, and countless other things.
Feeding the volunteers day after day has been selflessly supported by local restaurants and food providers, she said.
“There have been hundreds and hundreds of meals donated,” she said. “Every single day there is coffee and muffins. We have not had to worry about lunch or breakfast for the entire time.”
Mountain View County has overseen the collection and distribution of the food, she noted.
Huge amounts mechanical equipment has been used in the cleanup efforts, she said.
“There have been dozens and dozens of pieces of equipment, from bulldozers to backhoes to skid steers,” she said. “And all of that has been donated equipment and operators.
“So many of these waste companies are donating their bins. The port-a-potties, the storage units, the trailers, the car-haulers are also donated. Those are critical things at the sites.”
Despite the very tough and dirty nature of the cleanup, not a single notable mishap has been reported among any of the volunteers, she said.
“We have had no injuries on any of the sites since I’ve been involved,” she said. “We tell people to wear proper footwear and we’ve had amazing donations of gloves. We’ve said, “Take your time and do what you can in a safe manner’.”
While most of the cleanup has now been completed, smaller scale recovery work is expected to continue for at least a couple more weeks, she said.
“We are nearing the end,” she said July 27. “There are still people who want to volunteer, so when families are able to take a look at some of these things (that still need to be cleaned up), we can go out and help them. We are there to help.”
Plans are to compile statistics about the clean up, such as the amount of debris collected and removed and the number of volunteers involved and their hours works, she said.
“I want people to know what this community has done,” she said. “I think this is a precedent in the outpouring of support. This is really important for our communities and our families.”
Mountain View County Reeve Angela Aalbers commended the many volunteers, companies, organizations and others involved in the tornado clean up and fundraising efforts.
“We have been in awe of the daily effort of volunteers giving up their time to walk fields, pick up debris, donate their heavy equipment, port-a-potties and dumpsters, the countless people that helped cook meals, donated funds for lunch and the thousands of bottles of water, soft drinks and Gatorade," Aalbers told the Albertan.
“And of course to those that have planned some of the incredible fundraising efforts. It has demonstrated the resiliency of our community and how we are truly stronger together.”