The mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said one person has died as a result of flooding in northern Alberta.
“There was a death last night and unfortunately… it was a water-related death,” Don Scott said in an update Wednesday afternoon.
“I have offered the condolences of mayor and council and I reached out to the community where this individual lived,” he continued.
“I tried to connect with the family and let them know if they need anything that they should please reach out. We have a very strong relationship with our Indigenous community.
“We were all very saddened to hear that news.”
Scott Davis, the director of emergency management with the RMWB, said the death occurred near the Athabasca River near Fort McKay.
Fort McKay is located about 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
The Fort McKay First Nation said in a media release Wednesday afternoon that the victim is a man from their community.
Officials from the First Nation said they were informed at around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday that two members of the community were in distress near their family trapping grounds, about 50 kilometres north of Fort McKay along the Athabasca River.
RCMP said they responded to a call for help from two men who were stranded on the river at around 1:30 p.m.
Preliminary investigation indicates they were on ATVs on a trail when water levels suddenly rose and they ended up in the Athabasca River, RCMP said in a news release. They were able to hold onto a submerged log and used a cellphone to call for help.
Wood Buffalo RCMP, Fort McMurray Search and Rescue, RMWB emergency services and helicopters helped in the rescue.
“The situation was critical due to hypothermia from exposure to the cold water,” the news release explained.
One man was flown to hospital in critical condition and later died. The second man was taken by ambulance to Northern Lights Regional Hospital in Fort McMurray.
“We are deeply saddened by this passing and are supporting the family and our members through this situation,” the First Nation said.
RCMP said two women, two children and two dogs “were also rescued from a nearby cabin and taken to safety.”
A 25-kilometre-long ice jam has caused major flooding and forced about 13,000 people from their homes in Fort McMurray’s downtown. On Wednesday, officials said the ice jam had receded and was estimated to be 20 kilometres long.
Council members from the RMWB in northern Alberta toured the areas affected by flooding Tuesday night.
Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz took Mayor Don Scott and three councillors through the Lower Townsite and Waterways neighbourhoods of Fort McMurray.
In an update Wednesday afternoon, Scott said there is “reason for optimism” because the water levels had dropped by about four centimetres.
“That’s a very positive sign,” he said.
Scott added that the ice is starting to darken, which suggests it is rotting.
“That is a strong sign that things are going to release. That’s a precursor to a release of the ice. So things are heading in the right direction.”
At this time, initial assessments suggest 1,230 structures are affected by the flood, Scott said. By comparison, in 2016, when wildfires tore through the region, 2,579 structures were affected.
“We’re at almost half the structures so it is a very significant amount of damage,” the mayor said.
Scott added that the hospital “is extremely secure” and that he has no concerns about it flooding. He said there was a plan in place to move seniors out of the hospital Wednesday as a precautionary measure, but that has been put on hold because the water has not spread any closer to the hospital.
On Wednesday morning, the Lower Townsite remained on mandatory evacuation order while residents in Grayling Terrace — who were previously on voluntary evacuation notice — were allowed to return home.
With files from The Canadian Press.