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‘The flooding danger in Fort Vermilion has passed’ says Mackenzie County Reeve

Flooding no longer a threat to Fort Vermilion
WATCH ABOVE: Now that the Peace River has retreated back inside its banks, residents and business owners in Fort Vermilion are anxious to get a look at the damage and start cleanup. Sarah Ryan has the details.

As quickly as the water came, it has now left Fort Vermilion, giving crews an opportunity to begin cleanup.

“Today things are looking a lot better,” Councillor Cameron Cardinal said.

“The river has receded, probably to seasonal levels, so the chance of us seeing further flooding is probably pretty slim.”

He noted there’s some standing water remaining in the community, but pumps are being used to remove it.

Machines were brought in to haul away the ice, wood and mud left behind when the river retreated.

READ MORE: Flood cleanup underway as water levels drop near Fort Vermilion

But Mackenzie County’s reeve, Josh Knelsen, said it’s still too early to allow people back inside the flood zone.

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“We all feel people’s want and desire, [the] need to go and see their homes. We’re doing everything we can to get them in there as fast as we can — as long as we can do so safely.”

Knelsen and Cardinal said they know the longer people have to wait, the more damage can be done thanks to mold or condensation, but they agree safety is the top priority.

“We will not allow re-entry to happen until we can safely do so,” Knelsen said.

Damage assessments underway in Fort Vermilion after Peace River flood waters recede
Damage assessments underway in Fort Vermilion after Peace River flood waters recede

He explained sinkholes have appeared in the hamlet’s roads overnight.

“We are starting a rapid damage assessment which includes an assessment of all buildings in the flood zone. All buildings must be inspected for structural integrity, power, natural gas, environmental hazards.”

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READ MORE: Jason Kenney announces emergency funding for northern Alberta flood evacuees

Environment Minister Jason Nixon echoed that sentiment.

“Although residents may be anxious to return, and I do understand that, we need a number of conditions to be met in order for residents to return to their communities safely.

“Those conditions include floodwater no longer being an imminent threat, the availability of critical infrastructure and essential services and hazards in the area being secured.”

High river level continue to drop across northern Alberta, ice jams melting
High river level continue to drop across northern Alberta, ice jams melting

On Thursday afternoon, evacuees were taken on a bus tour by the county, to see their homes and any damage done to the outside.

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Ray Toews wants to get a look at the damage to his three flooded businesses on River Road.

“The laundromat is trashed, the hardware store had about four feet of water up the walls, so most of the inventory is shot, is destroyed.”

Cost of flooding during ‘unprecedented’ year still unknown: Premier Kenney
Cost of flooding during ‘unprecedented’ year still unknown: Premier Kenney

His cannabis store, opened just six months ago, also had two feet of water in it.

“Sunday I had four good businesses, making us a good living. I was solid, secure,” Toews said.

“Our life is turned upside down. We’re living up at my brother’s place right now.”

Toews said his insurance isn’t covering the damages, because they were caused by overland flooding.

“I don’t want to fix the building up. Because if I fix it up and sell it to somebody else, it’s going to flood again. So I don’t want to fix it up. I want to move up the hill here,” he said, pointing to higher ground.

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READ MORE: Evacuations ordered in Fort Vermilion as Peace River breaches banks

Toews said the entire experience has been eye opening.

“You watch other people’s disasters and you feel sorry for them. But boy, when you get it yourself, now my empathy has gone up a lot. Now I understand.”

On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced emergency financial assistance for evacuees: $1,250 per adult and $500 for each minor.

Eligible residents can apply for the funding on the government’s website.

Alberta premier details supports, cash payments for northern flood victims
Alberta premier details supports, cash payments for northern flood victims

But that’s only short term relief. Now, the community is awaiting information about provincial disaster relief funding.

When asked about support for businesses, Nixon said there will be an emergency rebuilding process that will take place.

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“The minister of municipal affairs, and the minister of treasury will have more to say in the coming days.”

Cardinal believes that would go a long way in Fort Vermilion.

“To get disaster relief would be huge for us. We can rebuild sooner and possibly come up with a solution so this doesn’t happen again.”