The Red Cross will provide $50 million in emergency funds and the Alberta government will provide $100 million in emergency funding for thousands of Fort McMurray fire evacuees.
On Wednesday, the Red Cross said each adult would receive $600 and each child would receive $300. The province previously announced it would provide $1,250 per adult and $500 per dependent.
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Emergency funding from Red Cross
People who have given the Red Cross an email address will receive the funds through e-transfer in the next 24 to 48 hours. The Red Cross said if you didn’t provide an email, they will reach out to you.
“No matter where they are in Canada, we will reach out,” Conrad Sauve, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross said. “We will take care of you wherever you are.”
He called the emergency funding effort the most important and fastest direct cash transfer in the organization’s history.
So far, $67 million has been donated to the Red Cross for Fort McMurray wildfire relief.
“Over the past week, the people of Alberta have demonstrated incredible compassion, care and humanity,” Sauve said. The federal government has pledged to match donations to the cause and the province will match donations from Albertans. The details on how that matching program will be sorted have not been worked out yet.
“Our officials are in conversations with Red Cross about matching funds,” Notley said. “Meanwhile the Red Cross has very generously offered to work with us on their electronic systems to help get our funds to those outside of Alberta.”
Emergency funding from Alberta government
Premier Rachel Notley said pre-loaded debit cards will begin to be distributed Wednesday at designated locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Lac La Biche until May 20.
The debit card locations will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and then from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. after that. More locations will be added in the coming days, the province said.
After May 20, emergency financial assistance will move to Alberta Works offices.
One family member can pick up debit cards for the entire family if they have documentation: a Red Cross registration number, photo ID, identification for a partner/spouse or dependents (if claiming for them), proof of residence in the community.
Notley said there will be long lines and asked those who don’t need the money immediately to hold off on getting their debit cards. If you don’t have identification, statutory declarations will be accepted.
“Our aim is to get help to the evacuees who need it the most as quickly as possible,” Notley said.
“In order to allow for immediate distribution to people who are in most urgent need, we are asking evacuees who aren’t in dire need of these funds to wait a few days before claiming them.
Seniors, individuals with mobility issues, those with special needs and others who are in Alberta but unable to apply in person at a debit card location can contact 310-4455 to make alternative arrangements.
“Let me conclude by saying this emergency funding underscores the commitment every Albertan owes to each other,” Notley said. “It is about Albertans helping Albertans. The fire has affected thousands of lives – Albertans who have contributed to this province.”
WATCH: The Alberta government and Red Cross announced details of how emergency funding will be made available to Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees. Erin Chalmers has the details.
Sauve said there has been an outpouring of support for this cause.
“This is unprecedented in regards to individual giving,” he said, referring to donations.
“We know already the damage will be in the billions and it will take years to recover,” Sauve added. “But we also know the needs are immediate.”
The millions donated to the cause through the Canadian Red Cross by individuals and corporations has eclipsed public support for past national disasters such as the 2013 southern Alberta floods, Lac Megantic rail disaster and 2011 Slave Lake wildfire.
As of Wednesday, the Red Cross had registered more than 80,000 people. All evacuees must register no matter where they are staying. You can register online or by calling 1-888-350-6070.
Ontario will contribute $500,000 to the Red Cross to help wildfire relief and recovery efforts in Alberta. The province has also sent over 60 firefighters, three strike team leaders and 16 other staff to help on the ground.
Federal cabinet committee
The federal Liberals have struck a cabinet committee involving nine different ministries to handle the aftermath of the Fort McMurray wildfire.
Kent Hehr, the Calgary MP who serves as Veterans Affairs minister and associate minister of defence, will chair the committee, which includes ministers responsible for public safety, health, natural resources, infrastructure, labour and employment insurance, among others.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to visit Fort McMurray on Friday and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says she’s already planning to urge the federal government to extend enhanced employment insurance benefits to Edmonton as a result of the wildfire fall-out.
“I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise to the prime minister that we are well past the justification for new EI rules in the Edmonton area,” Notley said. “The EI numbers came out and, under the current circumstances, there is a good case for it to be extended.”
Edmonton-area MP Rona Ambrose, the interim Conservative leader, offered rare praise for the government’s cabinet committee move, calling it a very smart way to speed up decision-making.
Below: Gallery of the Lac La Biche evacuation centre.
As of 6 p.m. MT Wednesday, the two fires in the Fort McMurray area that had joined together remained roughly 229,000 hectares in size. The wildfire is about 25 kilometres from the Saskatchewan boundary.
There are 700 firefighters, 32 helicopters, 13 air tankers and 83 pieces of heavy equipment battling the wildfire. A steady stream of water bombers continued to fly over the roadblock south of Fort McMurray Tuesday. There was no heavy smoke, but crews were hitting hotspots.
WATCH: The fire situation inside Fort McMurray seems to be improving, but it’s still a disaster zone. Paul Haysom reports.
“It’s definitely a scene of devastation,” Jeremy Hall said. He’s a volunteer from Grande Prairie who’s working with firefighters on the front lines.
“It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. A lot of people are going to be really upset to see it when they get back, there’s no question. You can see just along the road here, it’s a scene out of a movie. There’s cars in the ditch and they’re burnt and stuff. It’s really tragic, but then you come around the next corner and there’s a glimmer of hope because this whole entire subdivision might be in fantastic shape, not even touched.
“You know this city is strong. They’re going to rebuild,” Hall said. “It’s Alberta Strong. Everyone has been going with that and I think it needs to stick with that.”
He described having to pull down the walls of one home to stop the fire from spreading to many more.
“I could see a picture on the wall,” Hall recalled, his voice breaking. “The little girl’s name was Rebecca and the pictures on the wall… It was tough. It was really tough.”
WATCH: A volunteer describes the devastation of the blaze and one situation that was particularly emotional for him
Update from Alberta RCMP
Shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, RCMP provided an update on their work in Fort McMurray.
Inspector Kevin Kunetzki said the Fort McMurray RCMP detachment was open and operational and the Timberlea detachment would also be open soon. He said there are about 300 RCMP members in the community conducting patrols, checkpoints and other security.
Kunetzki said RCMP saw 100 instances of forced entry into homes – 91 of the cases were found by initial police canvassing after the fire and nine were more recent. However, police cautioned against assuming criminal activity.
“Some of these cases of forced entry might be the result of neighbours looking to care for their neighbours and make sure they got out safely, if pets may have been in the residence.”
Kunetzki said RCMP had responded to five reports of missing people and said in all cases, people have been found safe and sound.
Mounties have also taken several guns into their possession since the community was evacuated.
Kunetzki said two guns were seized as part of a break-and-enter investigation, one gun was found in a park and later connected to a May 7 break-and-enter investigation, and some firearms were turned over to RCMP to ensure they were safely kept.
“Police are not forcefully entering homes to seize firearms,” he stressed, adding there were three cases where guns were involved.
Roads and transportation
Travel into Fort McMurray was still restricted to essential services only. There is still no public access into the city. As of Tuesday, industrial and commercial vehicles carrying supplies and equipment for oilsands operations were being allowed through Fort McMurray to worksites north of the city.
RCMP have begun removing vehicles abandoned on the highway, including vehicles left at northern work camps when evacuees were flown out.
Individuals forced to abandon their vehicles on Highway 63 during the evacuation should call Highway 63 Towing & Recovery at 1-877-671-2717 to confirm if your vehicle is at the yard.
In order to pick up your vehicle, you must have your driver’s licence and car key, registration and insurance (which may be in the glove box).
Highway 63 Towing & Recovery is located in Wandering River, approximately 230 km north of Edmonton. Costs for towing and storage of abandoned vehicles will be covered by the province.
The Beaver Lake Provincial Recreation Area campground near Lac La Biche is Alberta Parks’ primary location for evacuees who are equipped to camp. No charge. Alberta Parks will also accept evacuees equipped to camp in other provincial campgrounds, also free of charge.
In a meeting in Calgary Wednesday, ATCO Ltd. said it has a crew of 300 people in Fort McMurray working around the clock. They haven’t turned the gas back on yet and won’t until it is safe.
COO Siegfried Kiefer said 75 per cent of the power is ready to go but bringing it back online will be staged.
The company is also working with oilsands companies about recharging their sites. Kiefer expects the process to take weeks, but not as long as a month.
ATCO also has 4,000 beds available and can provide longer-term space for evacuees if needed.
The company will also be donating 10,000 meals to emergency responders.
What will students do about school?
About 12,000 of the Fort McMurray evacuees are students, some of whom are graduating Grade 12 this year. On Wednesday, Education Minister David Eggen told Global News Morning Edmonton that no student will be penalized for missing days or weeks of school.
If students choose not to return for the last month and a half of the school year, they will receive the mark they had to date as their final grade. The 900 Grade 12 students facing diploma exams have the option of writing them, or finishing the year with the grade they have right now.
Although the options are in place, the province and school officials are encouraging students to enrol in their nearest school to restore a sense of routine and normalcy during a chaotic time. About 1,900 students have already done so.
Watch Below: It’s estimated the wildfires have displaced more than 12,000 students. Education Minister David Eggen joined Global News Morning to talk about how the province is encouraging fire evacuees with children to enroll them into schools in their temporary communities.
With files from The Canadian Press