Karina Pillay knows exactly what Melissa Blake is feeling. Five years ago, Pillay was the mayor of Slave Lake when wildfire ripped through that municipality, destroying one-third of the community.
She knows first hand what the Fort McMurray evacuees are going through.
“I’m sure there’s a roller coaster of emotions going on,” Pillay said.
“I think it’s a very intense, stressful moment for the evacuees but I’m pretty confident they’re being supported by the numerous people who are opening their homes and the wave of humanity that’s coming their way.”
Pillay said it took about two years to rebuild about 90 per cent of Slave Lake, which she describes as “remarkable.” She credits the support from the province (there from “Day 1,” she said), the country, and the international community.
“The outpouring of support was instant,” Pillay said. It was like “one big family trying everything we could to make sure our community was up and running on our return.”
WATCH: A former resident of Slave Lake is offering her perspective on what wildfire evacuees can expect in the coming days and weeks.
Still, she says Fort McMurray should be ready for a long recovery effort that will likely take years.
“It will be tremendous. This is a long haul.”
“I would encourage people to think about Fort McMurray and those communities not only in the months to come but next year as well,” Pillay said.
She was first elected mayor of the Municipal District of Slave Lake in 2004. In 2013, she stepped down in order to attend medical school in Calgary. She has since graduated and is now completing her residency.
Still, five years after the disaster that forced her onto the international stage, Pillay says she still hears encouraging words from Slave Lake.
“We’re proud of our community. We’re proud of our resilience.”
She said the district’s slogan comes to mind often, especially in light of what Fort McMurray is now faced with.
“We’re rugged and real.”
Her advice to those in Fort McMurray?
“Take some comfort in the incredible army that’s on the ground working around the clock for you,” she said. “Also, just embrace the generosity that’s coming your way. You’re not alone in this. You’re going to get through this.”
“They will recover from this and they will be stronger because of it.”