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Nearly 2,700 N.W.T evacuees reach Calgary amid questions over financial support

Evacuees in Calgary are spread out over nearly 40 hotels that have offered up space for those fleeing the wildfires in the Northwest Territories. Global News

Evacuees from the Northwest Territories continue to reach Calgary with no word on when they’ll be able to go home as fire officials believe the situation could last weeks longer.

According to the City of Calgary, 2,669 evacuees had reached the city by 10 a.m. Tuesday, spread out across nearly 40 hotels that have made rooms available to them.

“Emergency Social Services team members are conducting door-to-door checks with evacuees housed in hotel rooms to make sure they have what they need,” the city said in a statement. “Common requests received include help for access to prescription medicine, clothing, and use of laundry facilities.”

Evacuees are receiving a per diem for food either at the hotel restaurant or for vouchers for nearby restaurants.

Several evacuees told Global News there are also Indigenous relations supports, along with other mental health and crisis supports if needed after a harrowing journey to an unfamiliar city.

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“I want to go home so bad,” Marie Normandin told Global News outside the evacuee reception centre near the Calgary airport.

“I need funding, that’s the thing I need help with because we ended up coming here without money, and with whatever clothes we had.”

According to the Government of the Northwest Territories, there will be financial support for those who used the government’s evacuation flights when they return home.

However, financial support won’t be offered to evacuees who found accommodations on their own, nor will it reimburse those who used their own vehicles to evacuate.

“If you self-evacuated on your own means, the expectation will be that you re-enter on your own means as well,” corporate affairs director for Northwest Territories municipal and community affairs, Jennifer Young, said during a wildfire update on Monday.

Young recommended those evacuees check their insurance policies to see what costs can be covered.

Northwest Territories Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek told reporters on Tuesday evening the government will be as responsive as it can be but it cannot develop policies for a situation no one has ever faced before.

She acknowledged some evacuees had to pay for accommodations, food and other resources out of pocket at the beginning of the evacuation process. The territorial government will make sure everyone who needs accommodations and food will be taken care of, no matter how long the evacuations last.

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Wawzonek said the territorial government is trying to find ways to help those who have found accommodations on their own and used their own vehicles to evacuate. However, there are no programs set up to help them at this time.

“Asking that number of residents to depart the territory en masse and figuring out how to support them fairly is a challenge,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to figure this out. People aren’t going to be able to come back if they don’t have the funding to.

“The policies and guidelines are under consideration.”

Wawzonek added the evacuation order was written in a way to get Yellowknife residents out safely and quickly.

“We want to be mindful that our evacuation costs would ideally fit within the federal disaster financial assistance and recovery support,” she said.

“The finance department is already working on what different options might look like to balance out the difficult circumstance with the costs and need.”

Phuoc Nguyen and his family drove 20 hours from Yellowknife to Calgary and are still going over the resources and paperwork provided to see if he is eligible for financial support.

“It’s a weird time and it’s a stressful time,” he said.

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Other evacuees staying at the Westin near Calgary said they’re trying to keep in touch with family and friends, who were sent to different communities depending on the flight they took out of Yellowknife.

“My auntie, she went to Edmonton. I came to Calgary. My uncle went to Manitoba, and my cousins ended up in Vancouver,” Yellowknife evacuee Dennis Chicot said. “We’re all over Canada now, Yellowknife is everywhere.”

Meanwhile, the federal government announced Tuesday that it is “committed” to covering all eligible costs related to evacuation and recovery.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that more than $85 million has already been distributed to First Nations for disaster response, including support for evacuees.

“You can well imagine when you’re evacuated, and then on top of that you’re worrying about whether or not you’re going to have enough money to make it through your day-to-day expenses,” Hajdu said. “That’s a very stressful situation.”

According to the N.W.T government, there are currently 237 active fires in the territory affecting 3,432,844 hectares of land.

–With files from Paula Tran, Global News

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