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'Had to swim to get my horses': Alta. woman recounts how family left home on a boat after flood

Chantal Bustard's property in Yellowhead County west of Edmonton flooded within an hour on Monday.

"It was absolutely crazy how quickly it happened," she recalled to CTV News Edmonton the next day in an interview. "My driveway was puddles when I got home and then literally – [it] felt 20 minutes later – we were swimming."

She, her fiance, and their kids live immediately east of Peers, Alta., on the other side of Highway 32.

A creek that branches from the McLeod River north of Peers runs through the family's horse pasture, about 300 feet away from their house.

Normally, Bustard can jump across the creek. But after two days of heavy rain, "the McLeod River is what it looked like. Very wide and the current was very strong," she said.


The nearest government weather station at Carrot Creek, east of Peers on Highway 16, counted 85 millimetres of rain on Sunday and 51 millimetres on Monday. That's more precipitation than was measured throughout the entire month of June in each of the previous five years, save 2019 when the station counted 167 millimetres.

Early afternoon Monday, Bustard got a call at work that her stud horse had gotten out. At home, she discovered the creek had flooded the pasture enough that the animal had been able to swim to a different area. She put him in a pen on a dry field and went back to work.

"It was a little bit farther away from the creek so I thought we were good," Bustard explained.

She hadn't been back at work for long when she received another call, this time from her babysitter saying the fire department was at her property trying to save the horses from drowning.

When Bustard got home again, the stud in the pen was chest deep in water.

Chantal Bustard and emergency crews needed to swim out to her horses to help them out of a flooded pasture on her property in Peers, Alta., on June 19, 2023. Credit: Chantal Bustard

"We basically had to swim to get my horses," Bustard said of herself, the firefighters, and community members who had arrived to help. "And my horses had to swim out of the pasture to get to the house where it was up a little bit higher on dry land."

Of their thought process, she said, "We just tried to prioritize the ones that were in desperate need at that moment and it was definitely the horses because my pasture was just completely one big lake."


All seven of Bustard's horses and the three children that were at home were removed safely.

But as the group worked to help the horses, the water rose toward Bustard's house.

"My driveway was a lake. The firefighters were using a boat to get in and out to my house to help with building the berm," she told CTV News Edmonton.

She called seeing the skid steers and heavy equipment arrive a turning point.

"Watching how quickly they were building that berm, how quickly the water was breaching it – at that point I just knew there was no saving it."

Bustard took some essentials from her home but eventually had to leave crews to do what they could with sump pumps.

"We literally went out of my door.. and onto a boat and boated to my truck that was down by the highway."

Chantal Bustard paddled off of her flooded property in Peers, Alta., on June 19, 2023. Credit: Chantal Bustard

They are now staying in a camper in Edson.

On Tuesday, she was tearful with gratitude for the firefighters and community members who had helped.

"If it wasn't for them, I don't know how – I do not know how – it would have went."


While Bustard raced to get her family and animals out of their flooded yard, alerts began to roll out from authorities about flooding throughout Yellowhead County and the nearby town of Edson.

Edson officials declared a state of local emergency at noon on Monday. The next day, they said the town had received 135 millimetres of precipitation in one week and called the rain a "once-in-50-years event."

A flash flood alert for Yellowhead County was issued at 4:19 p.m. Part of Robb, a hamlet south of Edson, was evacuated about an hour later. Highway 47 south of the community was closed by a mudslide.

And Tuesday morning, some Peers residents were told to shelter in place after a bridge was compromised upstream from Bustard's place.

"I believe we've gotten upwards of 120 millimetres of rain in that period of time. So now we're in a flood situation, we've got roads washing out, we've got bridges being compromised," Yellowhead County Mayor Wade Williams said Tuesday afternoon.

"It's been absolutely brutal here. We have put up with a lot…And we're not out of the woods yet. When things start to dry out, the winds come up, the sun will come out. These fires are not out yet." Top Stories

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