It’s the second natural disaster that has forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray over the last four years.
And for one of the area’s most recognizable political voices, it’s the second time his home has been one of the casualties.
“This flood is much like the fire was,” Brian Jean, who represented the area as an MLA from 2004 to 2014, said.
His family had been in the process of rebuilding their home after it was one of the 2,400 in the city that was destroyed in the 2016 wildfire. Jean told Global News the last time he saw it on Monday, it had been “totally submerged” by water.
“Most of my family in Waterways have lost their homes,” he said. “There’s been a lot of impact, there are hundreds of homes — literally — that have water damage.”
Jean spoke to Global News Tuesday via video chat from his late mother’s home, where he’d been staying while his new house was being rebuilt. There are pumps working to prevent a similar situation to his mother’s property.
“The water has pretty much stayed where it is now for about 24 hours,” Jean said.
However, while he said the destruction of his home for a second time is “certainly a loss,” he’s more concerned about the safety of residents at this point.
“As long as there’s no loss of life, all this stuff can be replaced.”
Jean lost his 24-year-old son, Michael, to lymphoma in March 2015.
“This is pretty small in comparison,” he said. “Once you lose something you really love, you can’t replace it. These things can be replaced.”
Mental health will be impacted by flooding: expert
A psychiatrist with the University of Alberta who studied the effects of the Fort McMurray wildfires on mental health said Tuesday he believes there could be a PTSD rebound effect due to the floods.
“One of the things we know about post-traumatic stress disorder is it can be triggered by other events,” professor of psychiatry Peter Silverstone said.
“People who develop symptoms and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and recover are particularly vulnerable to these.”
Silverstone added his previous research found the mental health effects following the wildfires were “very significant and long-lasting,” and impacted people of all ages.
He added his concern is the piling up of issues facing the residents of Fort McMurray.
“When you imagine… what they’ve gone through over the last four years,” he said.
He suggests the best thing to do in the interim is ask people how they’re doing.
“I think there are a number of people who will react very badly to this trauma,” Silverstone said.
He added long-term treatments could include cognitive behavior therapy, exercise and mindfulness, to potentially requiring medication and more intensive therapy.
Another concern Silverstone has is that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to issues with accessing important mental health supports.
“It’s a really difficult time and the resources that would normally be there aren’t there,” he said.
There are online supports available, including the Centre For Online Health Support, which offers free programs. Silverstone helped launch the site in March along with the Blankets of Love mental health organization, as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Fort McMurray will build again
Jean said he believes the people of Fort McMurray will be resilient and support one other following the flood, just as they did four years ago.
“We’re going to build up again, and as I said during the fire — this is the greatest place in the world to live — and I intend to live here and will rebuild,” he said.
“People are very resilient here — they’re strong. They are highly trained by way of safety because of where they work. We’re going to get through this.”
He added he hopes the provincial and possibly federal government will step in to help in the long-term cleanup and rebuild following the floods, as after the fire it became apparent that there were some issues.
“I’m very hopeful that everybody will realize how important emergency responders are to them,” he said. “But also will recognize how important it is to get the proper insurance. After the fire, we realized how many people had such tremendous losses.”
“So many people have been greatly affected. Suicides, total bankruptcy,” Jean said.
Jason Kenney toured the city Monday and offered support Tuesday to the community, including supplies to help dam the water.
Silverstone said the stress of situations like this flood could lead to widespread issues in the community that go beyond personal mental health.
“Things will just add up and they cause either significant depression, or significantly increase use of drugs or alcohol, or anxiety, or sadly, domestic violence,” Silverstone said.
But Jean said he believes the people of Fort McMurray know it’s a home worth fighting for.
“Fort McMurray is an incredible place to live,” Jean said. “[It’s] beautiful, it’s amazing, it gives us one of the best quality lives in the world.”