Many fire evacuees got the chance to ask the premier and other provincial officials questions about the Fort McMurray blaze on Monday during a telephone town hall.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee, Premier Rachel Notley, Chad Morrison with Alberta Wildfire, Scott Long with Alberta Emergency Management and representatives with the Red Cross and Insurance Bureau of Canada participated in the call.
Here is an overview of what was discussed:
- Karen Grimsrud with AHS said the province and AHS are working on a long-term plan for mental health services for the coming weeks, months and years to give people the support they need. That plan includes supports for first responders.
- Will residents return neighbourhood by neighbourhood? The premier said that answer still needs to be determined and will depend on the completion of damage assessments and the restoration of essential services.
- What areas of town do and don’t have power? Long said there is power in the downtown core and at the RCMP detachment but beyond that, he could not provide precise details.
- Can people return to check on or retrieve their belongings? Notley said only those who have received credentials from emergency management and the regional district will be allowed in. No one else is allowed in.
- Will the airport in Fort McMurray be open by May 13? Notley said the airport will not be open by May 13 and all scheduled flights will be cancelled. Long said the majority of the airport is preserved though some out-buildings were damaged. He said the airport is being used by firefighters and does not have power.
- Will first responders and essential services be allowed back in before residents? Yes, Long said essential services must be in place before residents can return to their homes.
- Can residents receive Alberta Works emergency benefits if they are out of province? No, Alberta Works said residents must be in the province to receive its emergency benefits. Larivee said evacuees can probably seek out the equivalent of Alberta Works emergency benefits in whichever province they are in.
- Can my animal be retrieved? Long said local authorities and the RCMP have gathered up pets and are moving as many as possible to the Edmonton area. He urges pet owners to register with the SPCA.
- Why wasn’t Fort McMurray evacuated earlier considering how dry and hot it was? Morrison said crews were aggressively attacking the blaze after it was first discovered. But the situation changed after the blaze jumped the river and the fire surpassed expectations with its speed and ferocity.
- Who can receive a cash card? Details on the cash cards are coming soon, specifically about where, how and when to receive them. Alberta Works emergency benefits are not the same as the cash cards. Every evacuee is eligible for a cash card regardless of where they are in the country.
- Is there a time limit to get cash cards? No, Notley said there is no time limit. She is urging people who can afford to wait to do so, so those in need can receive those funds first. She said this will to ensure the line-ups to receive the cash cards flow efficiently. Those cards are expected to flow by mid-week.
Telephone town halls will be held every night until Thursday.