Spring ice breakup on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers led to flooding and the complete closure of the city’s downtown core.
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo declared a second state of local emergency over the weekend on top of one declared last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joseph Enverga has lived in Fort McMurray for about five and a half years. He currently lives in an apartment along Clearwater Drive. He said despite voluntary evacuation orders being in place for some areas, Saturday was “the most deceiving day.”
“It was just beautiful. It was gorgeous, it was super warm the whole day,” he said Monday afternoon. “I think me and a lot of people were like, ‘Whatever, it’s such a nice day. It’s going to pass.'”
On Sunday, Enverga said he went about his usual day. In the afternoon, he was talking with his brother online when his power flickered. That’s when he decided to pack a bag just in case he was forced to flee.
“I had a little bit of practice during the wildfires so now I packed way better than I did during the wildfire,” he said with a laugh.
Around 6 p.m., his power went out for about an hour. That caused him to feel a bit more uneasy. He went to bed and woke up a few times through the night and finally around 4 a.m., he decided it was time to go.
“I looked out my window and saw that half the parking lot had been covered with water. So I was like, ‘OK, maybe it’s time to go.'”
He packed up his van and went to assess the water before driving out.
“When I went to inspect the water in the parking lot to see if I could actually drive out. I went to the corner and I saw two people there and they were knee deep… I don’t think I’m getting out.”
That’s when two emergency workers came by on a boat and offered him a ride out to safety.
“It was just mind-blowing,” he said of the water. “All of a sudden it just ramped up and the downtown is flooded.
“From what I could see, I didn’t think it was that high. But when we were on the boat… I can see the water is halfway up a stop sign. Then we turn the corner and I can see cars are submerged. This is pretty deep.”
Enverga said he was taken by bus to one of the reception centres.
“The bus was pretty cool,” he said. “They took a very limited number of people, like six people at a time. Just being mindful of COVID procedures. They had things taped out — “this is where you sit, this is where you sit.”
As soon as he arrived at the reception centre, Enverga said he had more wildfire flashbacks.
“There were just lines. And those lines reminded me of the wildfire days,” he said.
“Driving north on the highway, just seeing that lineup of cars again — it brought back all those wildfire memories. People were standing outside of the their cars having that ‘What’s going on? This is it all over again.'”
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Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for all areas between Hardin Street to Waterways on east side of Highway 63 Monday afternoon.
Enverga ended up having a friend pick him up, which is where he’ll stay for the foreseeable future. He acknowledge the flood comes at a tough time for the northern Alberta community — the flood is compounded by the COVID-pandemic and plummeting oil prices.
“We were just finding our new normal from the wildfire. We were kind of getting into the groove. We had an economic development plan,” he said.
“That was a thought that just crossed my mind as I saw the flood. We’re trying to get back to normal, we made a plan. Now we have to try to find a new normal with this coronavirus. While that’s happening, our oil prices have gone into the negative.
“How is our city going to live? And then here comes this flood? I think all of us were just hoping it was going to be like all the other years. It’s going to be quiet, it’s going to break up nice and smoothly.
“And now it’s just a big mess downtown.”
But despite the hardships, he knows Fort McMurray will come back strong once again.
“We’re doubling down on hope. We just want to keep encouraging everyone. For me, having gone through the wildfire and into this, I’m excited to be one of those agents just trying to keep cheering people on, keep encouraging people. Because it’s so, so easy to be discouraged.”
For an updated list of areas under mandatory evacuation, visit the RMWB’s website.