Fort McMurray evacuees question emergency preparedness
Published Thursday, May 5, 2016 6:07PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 5, 2016 10:56PM EDT
Some of the 80,000 residents who fled the raging wildfire that devastated parts of Fort McMurray, Alta., are questioning whether local and provincial authorities could have done a better job of co-ordinating evacuation efforts.
A number of displaced residents arriving at an evacuation centre in Lac La Biche, about 220 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, said they were only given seconds to leave their homes. Others described panicked police officers and other emergency service personnel who sometimes didn’t seem to be steering evacuees in the right direction, away from the fire.
“I feel it was very disorganized,” evacuee Crystal Mercredi told CTV News Channel on Thursday. She said her neighbourhood was still under a voluntary evacuation order at one point, even as homes in a nearby community were burning and residents there were told to get out immediately.
Mercredi also said she didn’t see any police officers directing traffic as she made her way out of the city. When her husband made the harrowing drive out of town, it took him four hours just to cross five kilometres to get to the highway. And the only way he could reach the highway was by jumping the curb and driving in the wrong direction, she said.
“I believe our municipality worked the best they could with the resources they had…but we didn’t see any police evacuating through the way I went,” Mercredi said. “There should have been help.”
Tracy Thompson, also in the evacuation centre, said that there were flames on both sides of the road by the time she was told to leave. “I don’t think we were evacuated nearly soon enough,” she said.
Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley acknowledged the challenges of evacuating a town that “essentially has two roads out of it” within 48 hours.
Notley said she understands that evacuations have been stressful, but “given the circumstances,” the co-ordination has been effective. She said that police, fire and other emergency officials have done “a truly heroic job” and they have her gratitude.
Scott Long, who heads Alberta Emergency Management, said that evacuation notices were issued “as efficiently and as effectively as possible given the changing, dynamic nature of the fire.”
One Fort McMurray evacuee who barely escaped the fire because he was sound asleep after working a night shift also praised the first responders for their “exemplary job.”
Chris Burrows told CTV News Channel that he can’t believe all the residents made it out alive.
“Having this mass of people being evacuated with no casualties has just been astounding, for lack of a better word.”
With a report from CTV Toronto Bureau Reporter Peter Akman in Lac La Biche, Alta.