Premier Jason Kenney has announced emergency funding for those forced out of their homes due to flooding in northern Alberta.
He said emergency evacuation cash payments of $1,250 for adults and $500 for those under 18 would be available starting at noon on Monday, May 4.
Eligible Albertans can apply for the funding on the 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.”
The province said evacuees can expect the funding in their bank accounts within 24 hours of applying.
Those who are unable to apply online can call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre at 1-877-644-9992.
The Official Opposition said it was pleased the premier made the payments available.
“This is the right decision,” Alberta NDP Labour and Immigration Critic Christina Gray said.
However, the NDP voiced concerns over the government’s method to issue funding to evacuees. It comes after several people were unable to access government’s emergency isolation funding provided for those who were forced to self-isolate at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta.
Gray said that when her former-NDP government responded to the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016, evacuees were given pre-loaded debit cards as a way to reduce barriers to access emergency support.
“Now is not the time to make people fill out long questionnaires and second guess whether or not they really need help,” Gray said, adding she hopes the technical issues with the payment system have been addressed.
“Let’s be clear, that portal has been an epic failure during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
More than 13,000 people have been forced from their homes due to flooding in Fort McMurray and Mackenzie County.
Fort McMurray flood situation
Council members from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo 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.
A 25-kilometre-long ice jam has caused major flooding and forced about 13,000 people from their homes in the city’s downtown. On Tuesday, officials with the RMWB said the ice jam had deteriorated a bit, to be about 23.5 kilometres long.
On Wednesday, officials said the ice jam further receded by about five kilometres and was estimated to be 20 kilometres in length. It appears the water will crest around May 2 or 3, officials said.
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, 2,579 structures were affected when wildfires tore through the region in 2016.
“We’re at almost half the structures so it is a very significant amount of damage,” the mayor said.
Scott added that the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in the city’s downtown “is extremely secure” and he has no concerns about the hospital 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 building.
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.
Scott said it’s been difficult to observe what’s been happening to the city, but says Fort McMurray is resilient.
“Together we will get through this historic flooding event as a strong and resilient community like we have done before,” he said in the news release.
Fort McMurray has dealt with its share of disasters, including a raging wildfire four years ago that forced an evacuation of the entire city.
‘No tailings ponds have been breached’
Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon said he wanted to clear up some “misinformation” being shared amid the floods. He said no tailings ponds have been breached and there is no “imminent risk of flood water breaching any of the tailings ponds in the oilsands region.”
Nixon said the tailings ponds are being monitored twice every day to ensure stability.
“Currently, flood waters remain below the dams for all tailings ponds.”
Flood situation in Mackenzie County
There was promising news out of Mackenzie County on Wednesday, where the reeve said cleanup efforts were underway in Fort Vermilion.
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.
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.