As Fort McMurray remains under a mandatory evacuation order, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) held a special council meeting at Edmonton City Hall Wednesday afternoon.
Members of the public were invited to the council meeting, which began at 2 p.m. The public was also able to watch the council meeting online. Several Fort McMurray-area business owners were at the meeting, both to support council and observe the meeting.
Members of council shared hugs before taking their seats for the meeting. Council members, led by RMWB Mayor Melissa Blake, said it was their role to put together strategic steps to get everyone home and back to normal as quickly as possible. Council members said they want residents to know they will be there to support them every step of the way.
“We hope that going through our business here today will help us begin our transition to that return to home at some point in the future,” Blake said as the meeting began.
Wood Buffalo Fire Chief Darby Allen tweeted what has become an almost nightly video message for displaced residents Wednesday night in which he emphasized how hard everyone was working to be able to get evacuees home.
“We all want the same thing and that’s just to get you home as soon as we can,” he said.
Blake said the future state of the municipality needs to be as good as or better than it was before.
Representatives from the provincial government, including Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, were on hand for a portion of the meeting to discuss the re-entry plan.
While Larivee said a plan is not in place yet, but the province anticipates it will be released in the next week-and-a-half or so.
“The only thing worse than not knowing is having a date that’s not solid and it not coming true,” she stressed.
Watch below: Recovery work is now underway following a massive wildfire that triggered a state of emergency in Fort McMurray. Power and gas are slowly being restored but how long that will take is unknown. Shaye Ganam reports.
Shane Schreiber, executive director of the Alberta Energy Management Agency, outlined the four phases of response when it comes to a disaster. He said response to the Fort McMurray wildfire is currently in Phase 2:
- Phase 1 – Get people safe, fight and control and fire, support evacuees and reduce the human impact. This phase is complete, the province said.
- Phase 2 – Stabilization and re-entry plan. This involves getting people home, even if it’s not to their own home. Larivee said damage assessment in the region is underway. Crews were able to re-energize the downtown core, but there is still significant work to be done when it comes to getting power, water and gas up and running.
- Phase 3 – Short-term recovery. This involves getting the community functioning again, getting stores up and running and restoring a sense of “new normalcy.”
- Phase 4 – Medium to long-term recovery. Schreiber said this phase will take a long time and the province is committed to supporting the Regional Municipality as long as needed.
“The biggest piece is about the rebuilding of Fort McMurray and those conversations are starting today,” Larivee said.
The province said its support also includes mental health resources, which are available at the reception centres. Alberta’s 24-hour Mental Health Help Line is available at 1-877-303-2642. Residents can also call Health Link at 811, which will connect them to all the health care resources in Alberta, including mental health services.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council decided to continue to have weekly public meetings, starting May 18.
More than 80,000 residents in the region were forced from their homes last week due to a wildfire that, as of Tuesday night, measured 229,000 hectares in size.
On Wednesday morning, Premier Rachel Notley announced pre-loaded debit cards will begin to be distributed at designated locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Lac La Biche until May 20. The province announced last week that each adult will get $1,250 and each dependent will receive $500.
Notley said there are bound to be long lineups to pick up the debit cards and asked people who do not need immediate financial assistance to let those who do need the funds right away to go first.
The Red Cross announced it will provide $600 per adult and $300 per child in immediate emergency assistance for registered Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees. The money will be sent via electronic transfer within the next 24 to 48 hours. If evacuees don’t have online banking, the Red Cross said it will figure out an alternative option to get people their money.
As of Wednesday morning, $67 million had been donated to the Red Cross for Fort McMurray wildfire relief.