Flooded Fort McMurray turns from 'response to recovery'
EDMONTON -- Damage assessment has begun in Fort McMurray and some evacuation orders were lifted Friday afternoon as a recovery plan officially got underway in the flood-ravaged region.
The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is "very pleased" with the progress made by crews working round the clock.
Don Scott said he's asked the emergency director and R.M.'s chief administrative officer to "bust their asses to get everyone possible into their homes and businesses as soon as possible."
Five crews began assessing commercial properties so that businesses which sell supplies and other resources can re-enter and get set up for residents. Those considered critical include government agencies, grocery and hardware stores, gas stations, hotels and pharmacies.
With water levels lowering in the downtown, some areas opened up at 2 p.m. on Friday:
- MacDonald Island;
- Downtown streets northwest of Riedel Street; and
- Downtown streets northwest of King Street, between Highway 63 and Franklin Avenue.
There are still more than 2,000 homes without gas or electricity, the boil water advisory remains in effect, and authorities warned that the municipality couldn't guarantee the safety of individual buildings.
It could be days, they added, before services are restored.
“The reality is that’s certainly going to have to be a staged process," Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said in an update.
"There’s certainly portions of all communities impacted at the moment where evacuees cannot go back. We’re still dealing with moving water from certain portions, and the reality is we’re still waiting for the water to recede in other areas.”
- READ MORE: Officials cautiously hopeful as ice shrinks in northern Alberta
- READ MORE: This is how ice buildup led to severe flooding in Fort McMurray
Scott thanked Syncrude and Suncor for providing oilsands pumps to remove water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial, Prairie Loop, and Waterways areas.
"There are probably hundreds of companies that are helping us out in other ways. But those are the two companies that have stood up and been at the side of our firefighters and are making sure we’re getting all the pumps we need to pump out the downtown.”
A massive ice jam on the Athabasca River that caused the flooding has now shrunk to 9.5 kilometres. At the beginning of the week, it was 25 kilometres long.
With water levels having fallen 7.6 metres on the Athabasca River and between one and 1.5 metres on the Clearwater River, and no future issues expected by forecast teams when the ice moves further downstream, both Wood Buffalo and provincial officials were optimistic.
'We are beginning to turn the corner from response to recovery,” Nixon said.
FLOODING JARS MEMORIES FROM FOUR YEARS AGO
The latest estimate was that the flooding had impacted 1,230 buildings, or about half of the number of structures affected in 2016 by the wildfires.
Local government is drawing on that experience to manage the re-entry phase of future days, waiving garbage fees at the landfill and preparing a disposal process for refrigerators.
But as the first wave of 13,000 residents regain access to their homes and businesses, the municipality is facing questions on how it has handled the emergency.
One downtown condo owner believes damage to his property could have been reduced if sandbagging crews he paid for during a voluntary evacuation order were allowed on site.
"We were going to build a berm around our building, and we were going to start pumping if we started taking on water,” Michael Jesso told CTV News Edmonton.
He says emergency officials turned the crews around Sunday night, before the evacuation order became mandatory.
"With flood water, you have a fighting chance, and we never got that opportunity,” Jesso said.
"We had this covered.”
Jesso says the property has a $50,000 deductible, and other property owners are without insurance because of high rates. He added he is skeptical of qualifying for overland flood insurance again.
- READ MORE: Flooding insurance is optional and may not have been available to Fort McMurray residents: experts
However, the municipality’s director of emergency management said the decision to turn around the sandbagging workers around was for their safety.
“We always error on safety, and that condition on… Saturday and Sunday was quickly evolving. And we defaulted to protecting life safety.”
But Jesso responded, “I get that it’s for safety, but my God we’re not stupid. We’ve been through this. We’ve been through this four years ago.”
Dozens of others will, at the minimum, need structural assessments and health inspections due to sewage backup. The recovery phase could last as long as a month.
Fort McMurray residents have been encouraged to work with local insurance companies and contractors as they move forward. The municipality itself is employing local services where possible.
“What I’m really worried about is what happened after the fire. We had ambulance-chasing contractors come to the community, take deposits and run away with them, or do shoddy work and then just disappear,” the mayor said.
“(Local companies) are re invested in this community and they’re going to be around to do any follow up issues that might emerge.”
The 13,000 residents who were evacuated have been advised to register with the Red Cross and apply for emergency payments of $1,250 per adult and $500 per child from the province.
Several areas remain under mandatory evacuation orders:
- Riedel Street southeast to Clearwater Drive;
- Franklin Avenue southeast to Clearwater Drive;
- King Street southeast to Clearwater Drive;
- Waterways; and
- Longboat Landing.