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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tours flooded Fort McMurray, offers support

Click to play video '100-year flooding forces thousands from downtown Fort McMurray' 100-year flooding forces thousands from downtown Fort McMurray
WATCH ABOVE: On Tuesday, officials were keeping a close eye on river levels after a 25-kilometre ice jam on the Athabasca River caused major flooding and forced nearly 13,000 people from their homes in the downtown Fort McMurray. Sarah Komadina reports live from the city.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney toured Fort McMurray Monday to assess the flood damage after thousands of people were forced from their homes.

Kenney and Environment Minister Jason Nixon arrived in Fort McMurray Monday night. Kenney said they flew over the city to see the impact of the flooding.

“It’s very significant,” he said in a video posted on Facebook Monday night.

“We will provide all resources that are necessary… We will be there. We will be obviously supporting the community both in the emergency phase and the rebuild phase.”

The water levels started to rise over the weekend as spring ice breakup on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers led to flooding and the complete closure of the city’s downtown core.

READ MORE: Evacuation orders issued as rising rivers threaten Fort McMurray

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Officials with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the water on the Clearwater River continued to rise Tuesday, but at a slower rate than on Monday. The water on the Athabasca River on Tuesday was lower than on Monday.​

“The flooding has had a devastating impact on our downtown,” RMWB Mayor Don Scott said in an update Tuesday morning.

Scott said he has talked to elders who are more than 80 years old, who have said they have never seen the river this high.

“They live on the land so they would know,” he said.

“This is, to my understanding, the worst flood that this region has experienced in 100 years… This is a one-in-100-year flood… Just unfortunately, it is this year while we’re dealing with the COVID pandemic.”

Click to play video 'Fort McMurray, Alta. experiencing a 100-year flood: RMWB mayor' Fort McMurray, Alta. experiencing a 100-year flood: RMWB mayor
Fort McMurray, Alta. experiencing a 100-year flood: RMWB mayor

Scott said they explored the potential for whether the military could be used to break up the ice jam. However, he said the premier’s experts told them that since the ice jam is so large — 23.5 kilometres long Tuesday morning — using dynamite or explosives to break up the jam “would not be an effective tool.”

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“The sheer size of the ice jam, which is incredibly long… seeing it from the air gave us both a real insight into how powerful this flood is,” Scott said of his aerial tour with the premier.

“We’re going to be waiting on Mother Nature for a while.”

Officials said the ice jam had deteriorated as of 7 p.m. Monday, and that daily or twice-daily ice jam reports are being collected.

Click to play video 'Ice jams and flooding explained by Alberta Environment river forecaster' Ice jams and flooding explained by Alberta Environment river forecaster
Ice jams and flooding explained by Alberta Environment river forecaster

Scott said he has been in regular contact with Kenney and Nixon, who have assured him help is available.

“We made a large series of asks of the premier. That included more RCMP support, it included things like tiger dams, potentially sandbags and other support as we go forward,” Scott said.

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Nixon said Tuesday afternoon that the government sent about 100 radios to the region, as well as a tiger dam kit, which comes with 1,000 metres of tubing that can be filled with water and stacked to provide protection.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Nixon said the province has not yet made a formal request for help from the federal government. The minister said he is confident the province and municipality have the situation under control.

“If that were to change, we would — through Minister (Kaycee) Madu, who is the minister of municipal affairs … contact his counterpart federally and we would ask for help,” Nixon said.

“At this point we do not think that’s needed… We would call in if we thought we needed it but we think we have the situation well under control at the moment.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray resident flees flood by boat: ‘It brought back all those wildfire memories’

Just before 7:30 p.m. Monday, the entire lower townsite of Fort McMurray was placed on mandatory evacuation order, with the exception of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and Grayling Terrace. Sandbagging was underway Monday night to protect the hospital from flooding.

Later Monday night, Grayling Terrace was put on voluntary evacuation notice, not because of flooding but because ATCO planned to turn off the gas to the neighbourhood Tuesday morning.

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On Wednesday morning, the voluntary evacuation notice was lifted for Grayling Terrace and residents were allowed to return home.

An update on the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s website said the gas was shut off for safety reasons and residents who stay will not have access to heat or hot water.

Click to play video 'Fort McMurray flooding near Clearwater Drive' Fort McMurray flooding near Clearwater Drive
Fort McMurray flooding near Clearwater Drive

Evacuees who require accommodation or immediate support are asked to report to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre at 515 MacKenzie Blvd. to register as evacuees, the municipality said. Evacuees who don’t need accommodations are not required to check-in, it added.

Because of restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the reception centres are drive-thrus. Volunteers are wearing masks and providing evacuees with accommodations at hotels, motels and work camps.

By Tuesday afternoon, about 13,000 people from Fort McMurray were evacuated to hotels, work camp facilities and private accommodations.

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Scott Davis, director of emergency management with the RMWB, said “this is a critical situation at a critical time” and everyone needs to take the evacuation orders seriously.

Davis said about 200 search and rescue operations were performed in areas already under mandatory evacuation orders Monday and more were performed overnight.

Because of the demand for spaces for evacuees, some people are having to travel outside of Fort McMurray to Lac La Biche and Athabasca, Davis said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday the federal government was aware of the situation and was looking for ways to help.

Scott said the Red Cross is on the ground in the region, for those who need assistance or for those who wish to donate to the relief efforts.

The mayor wanted to reassure residents that they will get through this together.

“This region has been through a lot,” he said. “A lot of people say we’re the most resilient people in all of Canada because we’ve been through so many challenges and I’ve seen that over and over again in this.

“We’re going to get through this challenge as well.”

Click to play video 'Alberta Environment update on northern floods cause by ice jams' Alberta Environment update on northern floods cause by ice jams
Alberta Environment update on northern floods cause by ice jams

Davis said a re-entry plan is being looked at, but stressed that re-entry will not be granted until it is safe.

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For the latest information on the evacuation orders and for more information, visit the RMWB’s website.

Albertans are also encouraged to download the Alberta Emergency Alert app to stay informed.

Wood Buffalo emergency services and Syncrude join forces to pump water from industrial area

On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park.

“Crews are currently working to mobilize industrial-sized portable fire pumps to the area,” the RMWB said in a news release. “The pumps are expected to be set up and operational by 10 p.m. tonight.

“The pumps have the ability to remove close to 14,000 gallons of water per minute and (it) is expected to take approximately five days to complete the work.”

The RMWB said Syncrude would be supplying the portable fire pumps necessary to do the job and that there was a possibility more pumps could be brought in if necessary.

The industrial park is located west of the Athabasca River and east of Highway 63.

“Starting work on the recovery plan for this area is a step in the right direction to getting the cleanup underway,” Davis said. “It’s also a great opportunity to showcase the strength of our mutual aid partnerships here in the Regional Emergency Coordination Centre.

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“We have several leaders from industry, and other partner agencies, here with us in our response and recovery efforts. We’re grateful for our mutual aid partners for their support during this time.”

BELOW: Photos of flooding in downtown Fort McMurray on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. 

Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
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Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Flooding in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Sarah Komadina, Global News
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park.
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park. COURTESY: RMWB
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park.
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park. COURTESY: RMWB
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park.
On Tuesday night, the RMWB said emergency crews and the energy firm Syncrude were preparing to start pumping out about 400-million litres of water from the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park. COURTESY: RMWB