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Fort McMurray cleans up from flood on anniversary of 2016 wildfire evacuation

Fort McMurray begins flood recovery
WATCH: Fort McMurray begins flood recovery

As residents of Fort McMurray continued to assess their flood-damaged homes and businesses and began the difficult task of cleaning them this weekend, they also marked the anniversary of the start of an evacuation that emptied the northern Alberta city four years ago.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray flood: Resident support ramps up as cleanup looms

“It was evident on May 3, 2016, and it is evident today: we are a region of resilience,” Mayor Don Scott said in a news release from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on Sunday.

Many of the evacuation orders that began last weekend due to the spring ice breakup on nearby rivers were lifted Friday. The flooding affected low-lying areas of Fort McMurray including its downtown, and close to 13,000 people had to leave their homes.

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Fort McMurray’s mayor says flooding cleanup is ‘heartbreaking’
Fort McMurray’s mayor says flooding cleanup is ‘heartbreaking’

The Canadian Red Cross has been handing out cleanup kits that contain latex and work gloves, sponges, garbage bags, mops and scrub brushes. A boil-water advisory for the city remains in effect, so oil company CNOOC International supplied a tanker truck that pumped out potable water to people who brought jugs on Saturday.

READ MORE: Ice jam causing flooding in Fort McMurray decreases to 13km in size: officials

A supermarket downtown, forced to close but not damaged, gave away free produce to the food bank, which distributed the items from the back of a semi-trailer on Saturday.

“The recent river breakup flood has reminded me of the incredible generosity of our residents. That generosity was on display on that evacuation day four years ago, where neighbour helped neighbour, and it continues today,” Scott said.

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The municipality announced on the weekend that emergency housing provided through the Red Cross was being extended until May 10 for people whose homes aren’t safe to live in.

READ MORE: Residents returning after Fort McMurray flooding must be cautious amid COVID-19 pandemic

The fire in northern Alberta ignited deep in the bush on May 1, 2016, and exploded into a ferocious blaze that forced the evacuation of the entire city two days later.

More than 80,000 people fled as towering flames licked at their homes and crackled along the only highway out of the city. Flames consumed nearly 2,600 dwelling units, which were mostly residential.

A giant fireball is seen as a wildfire rips through the forest 16 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Highway 63 Saturday, May 7, 2016.
A giant fireball is seen as a wildfire rips through the forest 16 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Highway 63 Saturday, May 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Chief administrative officer Jamie Doyle said the fire evacuation was one of the most challenging days the region and the municipality have ever faced. But he also said that between COVID-19 and the flooding, staff have also been very busy in the emergency operations centre this year.

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READ MORE: 3 years after Fort McMurray wildfire, rebuild continues: ‘We just want our home back’

“Like May 3 four years ago, these emergency responses can be incredibly stressful on our staff, particularly if they have been directly impacted as a resident,” Doyle said in the municipality’s news release.

“If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to express your thanks to a member of municipal staff or to a first responder.”

READ MORE: ‘A very surreal kind of moment’: Fort McMurray woman shares video of flooding in childhood home

Sunday also marked the beginning of Emergency Preparedness Month in Alberta.

Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said Albertans know first-hand that a wildfire, flood, tornado or pandemic can significantly impact their day-to-day lives.

“And the historic flooding that we have seen in northern Alberta is an important reminder that we must be prepared for the worst,” Madu said in a statement on Sunday.