The reeve of Mackenzie County said cleanup efforts are underway in Fort Vermilion after flooding in the northwestern Alberta hamlet over the past several days.
Josh Knelsen said the water level on the Peace River had dropped by about two and a half metres on Wednesday, compared to Tuesday, and that it was no longer rising.
“It’s definitely looking better than it has the last few days.”
He said cleanup efforts started Tuesday night and will continue as long as the water levels don’t rise again.
“Hopefully we can enter the next stage of the disaster and start clearing the streets and checking all the infrastructure. At this point, we obviously don’t know to what extent the damages are,” the reeve said late Wednesday morning.
“With that comes the devastation of seeing what affect it’s had on the community.”
More than 450 residents from the region have been forced from their homes after the Peace River breached its banks at Fort Vermilion and North Vermilion. Knelsen previously said that the last flood of this magnitude in the region was in 1934.
The ice jam by Beaver Ranch released, according to an update on the Mackenzie County Facebook page. However, the water levels are still not stable and it’s not known when residents will be allowed to return home.
Knelsen said while the full extent of the damage remains to be seen, infrastructure has been compromised.
“It is quite evident that it’s been pretty devastating to the hamlet,” he said.
“There’s ice that is taller than what I am. It’s gathered — it’s on people’s yards, it’s on the roads. But we are working on removing all the large chunks of ice and then getting rid of the rest of the water that’s left behind.”
Knelsen said pumps arrived in the region on Wednesday and were being deployed to the most affected areas.
“There’s a lot of places that have been affected,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work. Until we have a firm grip on what the actual damage is, we can’t confirm that. There are houses, basements flooded… But we don’t know how many, how much. We do know that infrastructure has been compromised.”
Emergency funding for evacuees
On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced emergency support funding for all flood evacuees, including those from the Fort McMurray and Fort Vermilion areas.
He said emergency evacuation cash payments of $1,250 for adults and $500 for those under 18 would be available starting Monday.
People can apply for the funding on the Alberta government’s website. Kenney said the money would go straight into people’s bank accounts via e-transfer.
“We estimate that this will represent in emergency cash payments for a one-week installment of $11.7 million. Those payments will be available through application through My Alberta starting this coming Monday.”
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Highway 88 Peace River Bridge crossing reopened.
Evacuated residents who need a place to stay are asked to call the Mackenzie County Incident Command Post at 780-927-3718. For the latest updates on the situation, visit the Mackenzie County Facebook page.