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Northern Alta. flood evacuees to receive emergency cash payment
EDMONTON -- Northern Albertans evacuated due to flooding will receive a $1,250 emergency cash payment from their government.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the per-adult amount Wednesday afternoon, plus an additional $500 per dependent child.
Applications will be opened on May 4, and e-transfers will be made within 24 hours.
There are about 13,000 people evacuated from the lower townsite of Fort McMurray, in the Wood Buffalo region, and another 450 from Fort Vermilion in Mackenzie County.
Kenney said the total cost of the one-week installment for evacuees in both communities would be $11.7 million.
He added the local government in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo believe emergency costs will exceed that of previous flood disasters, in excess of $30 million, and that the R.M. would likely qualify for provincial funding to rebuild through Alberta's Disaster Recovery Program.
His government set aside $750 million in contingency funding in its budget and boosted health spending by $500 million at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, the premier suggested Alberta's budget could balloon to $20 billion with revenues offset by a low oil price environment, which is thought could last another 12 to 18 months.
“It’s too early to say how much this is all going to cost, but this is an unprecedented year in many ways, one of which will be the fiscal reckoning at the end of it all.”
Kenney said he did not know whether Mackenzie County would be eligible for funding through the Disaster Recovery Program, but that it would be a conversation government had with the municipality.
WOOD BUFFALO REPORTS FIRST 'WATER-RELATED' DEATH
An ice jam, which has now shrunk to 13 kilometers in length, is causing high water levels throughout the Wood Buffalo region on the Athabasca, Clearwater and Hangingstone Rivers.
Wood Buffalo's municipal mayor announced Wednesday the first death reported as related to the surging water levels in the northern Alberta community.
Mayor Don Scott told media there was one “water-related death” on the Athabasca River near Fort McKay. A hamlet and First Nation, both of that name, are located about 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
Fort McKay First Nation confirmed two men from its community were near family trapping lands along the Athabasca River, 50 kilometres north of the First Nation, on Tuesday. They were reported "in distress" at 4:30 pm., and airlifted to the hospital in Fort McMurray at 8:30 p.m.
RCMP said the men were riding ATVs when a flash flood occurred on the trail, and they ended up in the Athabasca River. They were able to call for help while holding onto a log in the river.
The older man, a band member identified as 59-year-old Rick McDonald, was considered in critical condition due to hypothermia and airlifted to hospital in Fort McMurray. He died from his injuries.
"We are deeply saddened by this passing and are supporting the family and our members through this situation."
McDonald's son-in-law, who he was with, was also hypothermic but survived.
Two women, two children and two dogs were also rescued from a cabin nearby, RCMP said.
Officials have reached out to the person's family to offer them help, Scott said.
OILSANDS PUMPS PUT TO WORK IN FLOODED FORT MCMURRAY
Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said the province measured a half-metre drop in water levels on the Athabasca River Wednesday morning. As well, four kilometres of what used to be a 25-kilometre long ice mass have melted in the warm and windy conditions.
"So," he said during a Wednesday afternoon update, "things are looking up."
A recovery plan has been put in place in one area of the flooded lower townsite of Fort McMurray, where crews started pumping out 400,000 cubic metres of water Tuesday evening.
The pumps, provided by Syncrude, remove close to 14,000 gallons of water per minute.
It will take about five days to remove an estimated 400,000 cubic metres of water from Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park.
Mayor Scott said work was allowed to start in the area because risk remains low.
However, the public is still evacuated from the neighbourhood, and the regional emergency operation centre is monitoring the work.
Several members of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council toured the flooded areas of Fort McMurray late Tuesday. Initial damage assessments will be released in the coming days, however, Scott described the amount of destruction as significant.
So far, the municipality has counted 1,230 structures impacted by flooding. That is just about half of the 2,579 buildings damaged during the 2016 wildfires.
Four mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for Draper, Waterways, Taiga Nova Industrial Park and the lower townsite. A voluntary evacuation order for Grayling Terrace, issued due to a gas service disruption, was lifted Wednesday morning when ATCO finished repairs.
The hospital, the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, remains "extremely secure," Scott said. In fact, officials have put on a hold a plan to move seniors from the hospital. While beds remain on standby in case they're needed, the mayor said the decision "is another sign that things are headed in the right direction."
To ease response and volunteer aid, Alberta's chief medical officer of health lessened public health orders regarding two-metre physical distancing and 15-person gathering limits for those in Fort McMurray.
Scott said Fort McMurray was already at a higher risk for spread due to travel in and out of the community by oilsands workers, and that the eased orders might increase that.
"But I believe this disaster has been managed in a way that people understand the importance of social distancing and they're effectively following the rules," he commented, adding compliance was still being enforced.
"People are very safety conscious in this region."