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Thousands back home after flooding

About 65,000 residents of Calgary are returning to their homes to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

Some were returning to properties spared by flooding, but others were facing extensive repairs to homes and businesses.

About 75,000 people had to leave at the height of the crisis as the Elbow and Bow rivers surged over their banks on Thursday night. Three bodies have been recovered since the flooding began in southern Alberta and a fourth person is missing. "We've turned a corner, but we are still in a state of emergency," city mayor Naheed Nenshi said. "Our hearts and thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues downstream."

People in the eastern part of the Canadian province headed for higher ground as the flood threat remained. In Medicine Hat thousands of people left their homes as water levels rose on the South Saskatchewan River.

In Calgary, Mr Nenshi said crews were working hard to restore services and thanked residents for heeding the call to conserve drinking water. He had already warned that recovery will be a matter of "weeks and months" and the damage costs will be "lots and lots".

While pockets of the city's core were drying out, other areas were still submerged. The mayor did not anticipate that anyone could return to work in the city centre until at least the middle of the week. The area was evacuated on Friday. The city's public schools also remain closed.

Alberta municipal affairs minister Doug Griffiths said 27 communities in Alberta were under states of emergency, with some areas slowly starting to emerge from the watery onslaught and others still bracing for it Mr Griffiths said no place has been hit harder than the town of High River, south of Calgary, and it will be some time before residents there will be allowed back. The waiting and worrying were causing tensions and emotions to run high, but Mr Griffiths said virtually every home in the town of 18,000 would need to be inspected.

More than 2,200 military personnel were involved in flood relief efforts, along with nine helicopters. Soldiers were helping evacuate an area around the mountain town of Canmore, laying down sandbags in Medicine Hat and assisting in road repairs in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary.

In High River, about 350 members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry from Edmonton were assisting police in reaching homes that had not been checked. Armoured vehicles have been churning through submerged streets and boats have been used to reach the hardest-hit areas. High River mayor Emile Blokland said the town's infrastructure had been dealt a critical blow and there was no timeline for when citizens can return.

Back in Calgary, the water has taken a toll outside residential neighbourhoods as well. The Saddledome hockey arena, home of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames, was extensively damaged. The team said boards, dressing rooms, player equipment and several rows of seats were a total loss. The rodeo and fair grounds of the world-famous Calgary Stampede were also swamped, although Mr Nenshi was optimistic that things would be cleared up in time for the show to open on July 5.

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