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'A cloud of hopelessness': Victims of Calgary's severe hailstorm rally at Alberta legislature

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2020-07-23 Stephanie Babych
a group of people holding a sign: Protestors from the Hailstorm Action Committee and Victims of Calgary hailstorm convoy from NE Calgary stand on the steps of the Alberta Legislature as they demand government help for the damage they incurred during the storm. Taken on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. © Greg Southam/Postmedia Protestors from the Hailstorm Action Committee and Victims of Calgary hailstorm convoy from NE Calgary stand on the steps of the Alberta Legislature as they demand government help for the damage they incurred during the storm. Taken on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Fed up with waiting for the provincial government to respond to their concerns, a group of northeast Calgary residents who have been impacted by severe hail damage this season called for action outside the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday afternoon.

The group travelled to Edmonton to call on Premier Jason Kenney to speak with community leaders to develop a plan, make a formal application to the federal government for disaster financial assistance and provide confirmation that insurance premiums will not spike due to $1.2 billion in damages caused by the storm on June 13 .

“The hailstorm has caused enormous financial and mental distress to residents in northeast Calgary who are already coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil and job losses,” said Khalil Karbani, Hailstorm Action Committee (HAC) spokesperson.

“We need immediate help to deal with a storm that has fundamentally changed people’s lives.”

Kenney announced in late June that the Alberta government would provide disaster relief funding for uninsurable loss and damage from the storm, which left numerous homes and vehicles battered by severe rainfall and large hail. But Karbani has continued to fight for further support from the government because of the significant economic impact to his community.

a person sitting at a desk in front of a window:  Protestors from the Hailstorm Action Committee and Victims of Calgary hailstorm convoy from NE Calgary stand on the steps of the Alberta Legislature as they demand government help for the damage they incurred during the storm. Taken on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. © Greg Southam/Postmedia Protestors from the Hailstorm Action Committee and Victims of Calgary hailstorm convoy from NE Calgary stand on the steps of the Alberta Legislature as they demand government help for the damage they incurred during the storm. Taken on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

Karbani said just over 30 people had driven from Calgary to rally for more support.

People held up signs that read “The Disaster Relief Fund helps only 1%, what about the 99%?” and “Time is running out and winter is coming.” Some people held photos of their shredded homes.

“The hailstones were huge and the storm was fierce. It was scary for us to be in our houses at the time. It was like bombs were hitting our houses,” Karbani said about the golf ball- and tennis ball- sized hailstones that pelted homes, vehicles and businesses.

“Some homes are beyond repair. . .  Premier Kenney, will you give us assurances that we are not forgotten about? Please help us, Premier Kenney.”

In a statement to Postmedia, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said “Albertans pay for insurance and rely on it” in situations like the hailstorm.

“Hail damage is covered by insurance. Insurers have so far processed over 70,000 claims and are paying out over $1.2 billion — even more than the initial estimates of $1 billion,” said the statement.

Under the current relief from the government, businesses and individuals can apply for funding if the damage is related to overland flooding. It will not include hail, sewer backup or insurance deductibles, which the government said is “considered reasonably and readily available” under insurance coverage.

The hailstorm has been listed as the fourth-most-expensive natural disaster and costliest hailstorm in Canadian history, according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ).

Rachelle Christopher, secretary of the Taradale Community Association, said she attended the rally because as she drives through her community, she still sees rows of homes with boarded-up windows and destroyed siding.

“Even though a cloud of hail came through, a cloud of hopelessness has stayed behind. It is a visual reminder every day for us, to see that the insurance companies haven’t come through,” said Christopher.

“Everyone is sitting on the last funds they have, waiting to find out what the insurance companies will cover so they can determine if they even have enough to cover the rest.”

On Tuesday, city council unanimously passed a motion from Coun. George Chahal to take a series of steps to help Calgarians dealing with storm damage.

“Immediately, what we’re looking for is the ability to support residents to rebuild their homes with more resilient, sustainable building products,” Chahal said in an interview.

Council agreed to waive municipal permit fees for repairs related to the storm, as long as applications were made before June 30.

The motion also calls for Mayor Naheed Nenshi to ask the provincial and federal governments for “immediate relief,” including tax credits and rebate programs, to cover Calgarians’ out-of-pocket expenses that aren’t covered by public programs or insurance.

“We as a municipal government, it’s not our jurisdiction with insurance. And we don’t have the financial capabilities and powers to be able to initiate tax credits and incentives,” Chahal said.

“People are waiting on insurance companies and adjusters to process their claims. . . That’s when it’s important to government to come through with an incentive or credit program during this opportunity window, during our construction season to help get them ready before winter.”

Chahal added that this situation is exposing bigger problems with the province’s Disaster Relief Program, and there needs to be a bigger conversation about changing it to help people in need.

“This is an ongoing issue,” he said. “We need to help these residents now. … We need to ensure we have an appropriate mechanism to support people during these difficult times. That’s why I’ve laid out an action-oriented plan right up front.”

a car parked on the side of a building:  A view of hail-damaged homes and vehicles in Saddleridge on Thursday, June 25, 2020. © Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia A view of hail-damaged homes and vehicles in Saddleridge on Thursday, June 25, 2020.

At the Edmonton demonstration, Leader of the Official Opposition Rachel Notley thanked those present for their commitment to their community.

“The extent and the breadth of damage is shocking,” said Notley. “If we are a province that supports each other through hard times, we should be supporting these folks.”

Among similar calls for action from the northeast Calgary residents, the NDP is also calling on the government to establish an advocacy centre to help victims of the storm to navigate the insurance claims process and better transparency about claims and support.

—With files from Madeline Smith

sbabych@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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