Hundreds of Fort McMurray evacuees line up for emergency funds
Hundreds of displaced Fort McMurray residents lined up outside an Edmonton arena Wednesday to pick up one-time emergency funding from the province to help them with their immediate needs.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said that adult evacuees will receive a one-time payment of $1,250 and minors will receive $500, which will be distributed through debit cards. Three centres were set up throughout the province to distribute the debit cards, beginning Wednesday.
The money, Notley said, will help displaced Fort McMurray residents to cover immediate emergency expenses, such as temporary housing, food and clothing.
"Some left their homes with only the clothes on their back, and many evacuees are in need for immediate financial help," Notley said during a news conference.
She warned that people should expect long lineups in the early days of the debit card distribution, and asked evacuees who are not in dire need to wait, if possible.
The response was quick. Within hours of the announcement, crowds gathered at Edmonton’s Butterdome to receive the emergency payment. Two centres in Calgary and another in Lac La Biche also provided the pre-loaded debit cards.
"There are enough cards for every eligible evacuee," Notley said.
Additionally, the Canadian Red Cross announced on Wednesday that it will provide $50 million, or $600 per adult and $300 per child, in immediate financial assistance to evacuees.
Those payments will be made electronically, and individuals who have already registered with the Red Cross will begin to receive the payments within the next 24 to 48 hours.
The organization has announced that its Alberta fire relief fund has collected $67 million so far, with a large portion of the donations coming from individuals.
"This is the most important cash transfer we have done in our history, and the fastest one," Canadian Red Cross President Conrad Sauve said during the news conference.
Sauve noted that a large portion of the funds raised will be matched by the Alberta and federal governments.
"We don’t know how much money we will raise, or how much will be matched, but a large part of these funds are individual giving," he said. "This is unprecedented."
No timeline on re-entry to Fort McMurray: Notley
Notely was asked when evacuees can expect to return to the Fort McMurray area, but she was unable give any sort of timeline as to when residents can begin to return home.
"We're very, very aware of the stress and the anxiety that many evacuees are feeling as a result of being subjected to the disaster…and we understand of course the desire to get back home," she said.
But the premier noted that officials must first ensure that the area is safe.
"If we let people go back too soon, we will compromise that objective and we will create additional problems that we could have otherwise avoided," Notley said. "So we're trying to balance the desire of the people from Fort McMurray to get back home against the risk associated with the going back prematurely."
She said work to assess the damage in the areas devastated by the wildfires is going "very quickly."
Notley added that the decision to allow re-entry to Fort McMurray will depend on specific criteria, including safe access to water, transportation, power and natural gas.
"We're not going to insist that everything be perfect before people come back," she said. “But we need to balance that against safety."