FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Flooding in northern Alberta has led to mandatory evacuations in Fort McMurray and a request to the federal government for military assistance.
“We have requested assistance from the federal government as we face this new crisis,” Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said in a social media post Monday.
It came as spring ice breakup on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers led to flooding and the complete closure of the city’s downtown core.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government was aware of the situation and was looking for ways to help.
“The fact that flooding season and, in due course, forest fire season is coinciding with coronavirus in Canada is posing some special challenges,” she said in Ottawa. “We have been gearing up for those from the outset and this is an issue we are looking at urgently today.”
The municipality on the weekend declared a second state of local emergency on top of one declared last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott said in an interview Sunday that there’s often some sort of event when the ice breaks every year.
“Once approximately every 20 years we have something different happen,” he said. “This happens to be that year.”
Officials were monitoring an ice jam about 10 kilometres upstream for several days, Scott said. Early Sunday morning, it let loose.
Evacuation orders were issued before dawn Monday for properties along several streets in the Lower Townsite district. Within an hour the municipality had closed access to the entire area.
Evacuees, including those staying at the Platinum Hotel, were told to report to a registration centre at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre, about seven kilometres to the south and farther removed from the rising water.
Mandatory evacuation orders had already been issued Sunday for Draper, a rural community of 187 residents just outside of Fort McMurray; for Longboat Landing, an area near the city’s downtown; and for the Tiaga Nova industrial park, which also has a hotel.
Late Sunday afternoon, a voluntary evacuation order was made mandatory for the Waterways neighbourhood including the Ptarmigan Court Trailer Park.
Meanwhile, due to reports of discolouration in tap water in Fort McMurray neighbourhoods north of the Athabasca River bridges, Alberta Health Services directed the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to issue a boil water advisory.
The municipality also noted in a post on its Facebook page early Monday that areas south of the Athabasca River bridges were not affected at that time.
Scott said Sunday that social-distancing requirements were being followed, and evacuees were being housed in hotel rooms that the municipality pre-booked.
He added that Fort McMurray’s population is ready for disasters, such as the wildfire in 2016 that forced an evacuation of the entire city and destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings.
“Because of the oilsands, people are very used to being in a very safety-driven environment. And if there’s any place that can face challenges, it’s ours,” Scott said.