EDMONTON -- An outpouring of support from local volunteers, industry and surrounding communities means Fort McMurray remains, for the time being, well-enough equipped to deal with flooding that has evacuated more than 12,000 people from its downtown.

Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon were in the northern Alberta community on Monday, and Kenney was given an aerial tour of the flood and now 23-kilometre-long ice jam causing it.

The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said he even discussed with Kenney the viability of military breaking up the ice mass with explosives, but was told that would be ineffective.

“Basically we’re going to be waiting on Mother Nature a while,” Don Scott told media. “If other options arise as we go forward, the premier and Minister Nixon assured me those would be looked at.”

Scott said Kenney promised Alberta would "endorse" any ask of help by Wood Buffalo of the federal government, and heard from federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair that Ottawa is eager to assist.

Officially, any ask would be put in by the province, though local emergency leadership would determine what is needed.

“We would call in if we thought we needed it, but we think that we have the situation well under control at the moment,” Nixon echoed.


But so far, Scott and emergency officials say they have enough people and resources to manage the situation: outlying communities have sent in firefighters to help Fort McMurray first responders, Syncrude and Suncor have provided workcamp space to evacuees and water pumps to alleviate flooding, and town volunteers have assisted in berming and sandbagging priority locations, such as the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, where flooding risk remains low, according to the mayor.

A mandatory evacuation alert was issued Monday evening for Fort McMurray's lower townsite, an area with 12,000 residents according to census data.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 12,936 residents had been evacuated, with nearly half registering as evacuees and more expected to do so.

In 24 hours, crews had performed more than 220 search-and-rescue operations in areas under emergency evacuation orders, prompting officials on Tuesday to urge residents to respect the current danger.

In total, 270 first responders and emergency workers have been deployed. More than 12,200 sandbags have been put in place, and 5,300 more are prepared.

“Even under normal circumstances, if we didn’t have the COVID situation, this would be on a scale this region has not experienced in 100 years," Scott said.

Adding in the ongoing pandemic, for which the municipality issued its first state of local emergency, Scott said, "Take that and multiply it by 10."

To accommodate public health orders issued for the pandemic, the RMWB is first placing evacuees individual rooms, rather than group housing, and implementing drive-thru registrations so that families can remain together but separate from the rest of the public. So far, 1,700 rooms are in use, and the regional municipality says "plenty" more are free. It is not known how long they will have to wait before returning home, but the rooms have been made available for at least seven days.

Red Cross was expected to arrive in the community on Tuesday, and the Salvation Army has set up an emergency operations centre.

Neighbours are kicking it into high gear, too: Since being created Monday, a Facebook group of residents able to help has swelled to nearly 6,000 members.

The R.M. is asking anyone who can contribute to do so to Red Cross or register as a volunteer, given pandemic public health orders, but the group started by Dave Scantland is focused on sharing news, updates, and areas where help is needed.

"Usually what happens… is we’re waiting for go-aheads from governments and agencies, whereas we as neighbours, as friends, as family, we can go down and start this stuff right away. It only takes a Facebook page to start this up,” he told CTV News Edmonton.

Referring to the beast, the 2016 wildfire that raged through Fort McMurray and destroyed thousands of homes, Scantland added: “We’ve survived all this stuff in the past, so we almost take it head on.”


Although the ice jam causing the flooding had shrunk by two kilometres as of Tuesday to 23 kilometres, the RMWB's director of emergency management, Scott Davis, said they were far from entering a recovery phase.

Data showed the Clearwater River was still rising, while Hanging Stone River had lowered between five and six inches, and the Athabasca River had dropped by 1.5 inches.

Colleen Walford, river forecaster in the Environment and Parks department, explained there were several possible scenarios for the coming days.

“One, the jam remains in place and it just continues to melt out with the warm weather. Two, it could release and float down stream and continue on its way to the PAD, Peace Athabasca Delta,” she said.

“Or unfortunately, it does have the potential to release and reform as a jam further downstream.”

The department receives ice reports daily, sometimes twice daily.

Given explosives have been ruled out as an option for clearing the jam, officials are hoping the weather stays warm.

“Ice jam floods are very unpredictable and conditions can change quickly with little warning. There is little no reasonable engineering solution to unlock the ice jams at this point,” Nixon commented.

He called the jam – the result of a long period of extreme cold followed by a period of rapid warmth – as unprecedented as the level of flooding itself.

“I don’t think, quite frankly, from our understanding, there’s much we could do from infrastructure capacity or mechanisms to be able to prevent that. It’s not similar to a lot of the conversations that we have around flood mitigation issues usually in Alberta, which is about large snowpack combined with large precipitation, which usually happens a couple of weeks from now.”

Kenney said he was hopeful the ice jams would melt enough for the flooding to recede in the next three days from both Fort McMurray and Fort Vermilion, where a 40-kilometre long ice jam was also causing flooding and the evacuation of some 450 residents. 

The premier added both communities could receive help through Alberta's disaster recovery program.

Despite the layered emergencies and additional economic pressures caused by a oil price drop, and remembering the horrors of 2016, Mayor Scott remained confident in the resiliency of his constituents.

“The people of this region face challenges like no other, and we’re going to get through this challenge as well.”

With files from CTV News Edmontons Dan Grummett