MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - People in soggy low-lying areas of Medicine Hat, Alta., started pumping out basements and taking stock of flood damage Sunday, but officials warned a downpour overnight could leave them waterlogged all over again.
Police Chief Andy McGrogan said about 40-50 millimetres of rain would likely fall by morning, following the same pattern that caused the flooding in the first place and pushing already swollen creeks back up to the same high levels.
"We're anticipating more of the same type of problems," he said, adding that the voluntary evacuations of 600 homes would remain until after the deluge.
Les Hamerston sat bone-tired on his front steps Sunday afternoon dreading what was yet to come.
He had been pumping water from his basement since being woken up by police at 4 a.m. Saturday but said the moisture was still seeping in.
His basement was "a sopping mess (with) a little bit of mud floating around on top," and he hadn't even been able to get in to see if anything could be salvaged.
He said he and his wife weren't well enough to keep up the fight, adding his whole body ached from lugging heavy hoses around all day.
"There's nothing we can do. We just have to wait and see what's going on," he said. "There's no way they'll be able to contain it, so it's just going to go where it goes."
Police said while none of the evacuations were mandatory, 44 families came to the city for emergency shelter. They said those in the part of the city most devastated were all out overnight.
Jack Clark said his next-door neighbour's house in the area of the city known as the Flats was severely damaged while she was out of town.
He rushed over to carry out what he could, hauling books and papers upstairs, but was unable to lift a television and exercise equipment before the water rose to the ceiling.
"It was running in the side door," he said. "It sounded like Niagara Falls ... Unreal."
The neighbour returned home Sunday morning to find the floor of her bedroom covered in muck and everything else underwater.
"She just started crying. What could she say?"
Gary Pointkoski and his wife chose not to stay with the city but spent the night in a hotel. They arrived back Sunday to find their house untouched, but still felt they'd made the right decision.
"You just don't know. (When you) think what could happen, I don't want to be up in the middle of the night and having a boat here and coming and picking us up," he said.
Up to 150 millimetres of rain has fallen in several regions on the Prairies, turning fields into lakes and ruining houses.
The Trans-Canada Highway east of Medicine Hat was closed across the Saskatchewan boundary for the weekend after being completely inundated, and looked unlikely to open in the short-term.
Crews were hoping to begin temporary repairs within the next couple of days on a washed out section of the highway west of Maple Creek, Sask., said Doug Wakabayashi of the Saskatchewan Highways Ministry.
A culvert failed and that caused the roadway to cave in, creating a large, watery pit resembling a miniature waterfall.
The government brought in extra construction crews from across the province to help rebuild that part of the busy highway, but Wakabayashi warned it would take time.
Doug Johnson, an official with the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, said the water that roared through Maple Creek was so significant, provincial models only predicted it would happen once every 500 years.
Duane Mckay, the province's fire commissioner, toured the flood-ravaged community of about 2,600 people and said there's "significant" damage to homes and businesses.
"Many basements are filled right to the top," he said.
People have been pumping floodwaters out of their houses and debris washed into town has been cleared from the roadways, Mckay said.
"We want to make sure people understand the health hazards that can occur from having this much water in a closed, confined area and structural damage that may have occurred."
Dave Hodgins, managing director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said officials are keeping an eye on the impending rainy weather.
"We're talking now about an additional 40 to 50 millimetres of precipitation between June 21 and June 22," he said. "That's the real concern. Where does that additional water go?"
While there are no hard numbers yet, Hodgins said damage is expected to be in the millions. He said in the past, such disasters have typically prompted provincial and federal programs worth roughly $50 million.
Such weather is unheard of in the semi-desert area of Medicine Hat, the sunniest city in Canada, where June is usually hot and dry.
McGrogan said Sunday's blinding sunlight and hot temperatures could trick people into thinking the danger was past, but said the true extent of the damage wouldn't be known until after Monday's rainfall.
"Right now the things are stable and that's great, the sun's shining," he said. "Obviously the concern is what's going to happen with the rain."
— With Files from Lisa Arrowsmith in Edmonton