Former Wyoming residents struck by High River flooding

Submitted photo Mounds of construction debris sit outside the home of former Wyoming resident Paul Droogers. The Christian Reformed Church pastor is in the middle of the High River, Alberta flooding. His young son, Steven, told him it looked like the houses threw up.

Submitted photo
Mounds of construction debris sit outside the home of former Wyoming resident Paul Droogers. The Christian Reformed Church pastor is in the middle of the High River, Alberta flooding. His young son, Steven, told him it looked like the houses threw up.

Little did he know when Pastor Paul Droogers left Wyoming to lead a church in Alberta, he would land in the middle in one of the biggest natural disasters in the province’s history.

Droogers was the pastor of Wyoming Christian Reformed Church for over five years when he was hired by High River CRC. He, his wife Jill, and their three sons moved there nearly two years ago.

Their new home and church were in the middle of the community which was deluged by water in June.

The Droogers, like so many others, fled their home as the flood waters lapped at their driveway. When they returned, the basement of their home and church had been filled with water. It had receded but Droogers says it left behind a “massive mould factory” which ruined many belongings.

“Every house has a mountain of garbage outside,” he told Sarnia-Lambton This Week by phone while standing outside of his home. “There are dozers and dump trucks out here to pick it up.”

Two of Droogers’ sons have returned to Ontario to stay with grandparents while Paul and Jill work to rebuild their basement and care for the members of their church. More than half of the families in the High River church have been effected by the flood including a couple in their 80s whose home was literally lifted from the foundation as the water flowed through it.

“It is amazing the power of water,” says Droogers who has driven through the downtown area which is mostly deserted now. “It’s amazing three railway tracks… that have been there 70, 80, 100 years – they were picked up and tossed all about by the water.” One rail line was literally placed on its end like a picket fence.

Droogers, his wife and his youngest son are among the few staying in the town overnight. When 6pm rolls around, the pastor says contractors leave and High River is “like a ghost town. Very few people are staying…It is very eerie and surreal, like this can’t be happening kind of a feeling…Three cruisers come back down our street every few hours…we never saw the RCMP down the street before.”

Droogers says very slowly the services are returning, but it will be a long time before he and his church family will be back to normal. Today is the first day since the floods began that Droogers lead a church service in his own building.

“This has truly changed people’s lives. It has so dramatically undone things,” he says. “We’ll get to normal, but it will be a brand new normal.

“This effects everything that we do…whatever ministry we were busy with a month ago has pretty much been rewritten because the needs have dramatically changed…This will be my ministry.”

And, as odd as it sounds, Droogers says he is thankful in a way that his home has been affected along with so many members of his church. “For a pastor, it is good to be able to relate to the experience,” he says. “I’m walking in those shoes…I know what it is like. I know what it is like to fill a dumpster with things that I would rather keep.

– Heather Wright

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