Mandatory evacuation order issued for all of downtown Fort McMurray
EDMONTON -- A mandatory evacuation alert has now been issued for the entire lower townsite of Fort McMurray, with the exception of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and Greyling Terrace.
The alerts began on Sunday with extremely high water levels in the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers. The Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo put in a number of mandatory evacuation orders as the situation worsened.
Video captured by Joseph Enverga, who needed rescuing from his downtown apartment, shows water as high as the roofs of vehicles parked on the street.
“(The men in the boat) yelled, ‘Hey man, you need to get evacuated!’ And I was like, ‘Yes, please!” Enverga recalled.
In the boat, he thought: “Jeez, that’s a lot of water.”
According to the municipality, more than 100 people who did not comply with the orders had to be rescued overnight.
A boil water advisory was expanded to all fo Fort McMurray Monday afternoon, as well as the communities of Anzac, Draper, Gregoire Lake Estates, and Saprae Creek Estates due to turbidity.
Affected households are asked to bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute prior to drinking tap water, brushing their teeth, cleaning raw foods, preparing infant formula or making ice. The advisory will remain in effect until further notice.
A secondary state of local emergency was declared on Sunday. The municipality was already under an initial state of local emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wood Buffalo Food Bank, which was experiencing higher than normal demand in recent weeks, is now closed because of flooding.
"It's not good, I can say that much. It's not good," Executive Director Dan Edwards told CTV News Edmonton.
He won't know much food will be lost until he is allowed back in the building. In addition to the flooding in the warehouse, kitchen and front office, the building has been without power since early Monday morning.
"I have freezers, I have lots of food in those freezers," he said. "It's not pleasant when you've got to deal with rotten food that's supposed to be in a fridge or a freezer."
The non-profit organization will not be able to reopen immediately once the flooding subsides. Edwards helped reopen the food bank after the 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray and says it will take some time before they can help people in need of food.
"We don't want to get someone sick by giving them something that was contaminated in any way, shape or form, so we have to go through some processes," he said.
In the meantime, people are being asked to reach out to other local organizations for help.
One Edmonton hotel is offering a 'Compassion Rate' for residents needing somewhere to stay during the emergency.
APPEAL FOR HELP
“We have requested assistance from the federal government as we face this new crisis,” Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said in a social media post Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government was aware of the situation and was looking for ways to help.
“The fact that flooding season and, in due course, forest fire season is coinciding with coronavirus in Canada is posing some special challenges,” she said in Ottawa. “We have been gearing up for those from the outset and this is an issue we are looking at urgently today.”
The municipality also noted in a post on its Facebook page early Monday that areas south of the Athabasca River bridges were not affected at that time.
Scott said Sunday that social-distancing requirements were being followed, and evacuees were being housed in hotel rooms that the municipality pre-booked.
“We anticipated that we would need to deal with some evacuations, whether that be for floods or for fires, as this particular time of year is a time we often see these kinds of situations,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Monday.
“So our teams at health have been working with the provincial operation centre to make sure that there are considerations — for example, evacuation centres, that we are considering the physical distancing measures and sanitation measures that need to be put in place to prevent the spread of COVID.”
Water levels are expected to fall once an ice jam releases or melts, but provincial flood forecasters say the timing of that is unpredictable.
Scott added that Fort McMurray's population has been hardened to disasters, such as the wildfire in 2016 that forced an evacuation of the entire city and destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings.
“If there's any place that can face challenges, it's ours,” Scott said.
“Even though this is going on, we don’t need to give up.”Premier Jason Kenney said he and Environment Minister Jason Nixon were headed up to Fort McMurray to inspect the damage first-hand.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett and the Canadian Press