'They were not prepared': B.C. fire evacuees frustrated with officials, Red Cross
Published Tuesday, July 11, 2017 9:02PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 11, 2017 9:21PM EDT
Some of the evacuees who fled the hundreds of wildfires in British Columbia say they are frustrated by what they see as a lack of preparation and poor communication from government officials and the Canadian Red Cross.
Daycare operator Jamie Hughes was evacuated from 105 Mile House on Friday. She initially went to 100 Mile House to stay with her parents, but had to leave Sunday when that town was evacuated, too. She is now staying with relatives in Horse Lake.
Hughes told CTV News Channel that she has been trying for three days to reach the Red Cross, which is coordinating emergency $600 emergency payments from the province for evacuees, who totalled more than 14,000 as of Tuesday.
Evacuees have been told they can register with the Red Cross by calling 1-800-863-6582 or by filling out forms at evacuation centres, but Hughes says her local evacuation centre doesn’t have any forms.
“Other communities have had forms filled out and they’ve been given food allowances and such and our community didn’t have any of that,” she said. “They were not prepared.”
“I understand you don’t expect this,” she added, “but there has been a lack of organization and information and people are getting really stressed out.”
Hughes said she has also been unable to find good information on when she might be able to return home.
“If I’m going to be out of my house for a month, I want to be prepared for that.”
Red Cross systems ‘overwhelmed’
Earlier on Tuesday, Red Cross manager Melissa Fougere, who is working on the ground in B.C., said that the organization’s “systems are overwhelmed,” but she encouraged evacuees to keep calling.
“There are a lot of people trying to register right now,” she said. “We do understand that the wait times are increasing.”
John Ranta, chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, also faced questions about an apparent lack of preparation, at a press conference in Kamloops on Tuesday.
For example, evacuees were initially told to go to MacArthur Island Park in Kamloops but later re-directed to the campus of Thompson Rivers University.
“I have received phone calls from my area residents that were saying it was taking half a day to get registered because of the lineups at MacArthur Island, but it’s been a much-improved situation by changing it to TRU,” he said.
“We certainly apologize,” Ranta added.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people lined up in Williams Lake on Tuesday afternoon to register in person with the Red Cross, in case they later need to access emergency payments later.
As of Tuesday evening, that city’s approximately 11,000 residents were not under an evacuation order, but rather an evacuation alert, which is a precautionary measure put in place to warn residents to be prepared to evacuate on short notice.
For the latest information on evacuation orders and alerts, visit EmergencyInfoBC.