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Fort McMurray looks to rebuild after major floods

Russell Hixson
Fort McMurray looks to rebuild after major floods

The city of Fort McMurray, Alta. and its surrounding communities are beginning plans to repair infrastructure, businesses and homes following historic spring flooding. 

The warm temperatures and ice jams in northern Alberta caused overland flooding and sewer backup, forcing more than 14,000 Albertans from their homes. 

The Government of Alberta is providing up to $147 million through the new Disaster Recovery Program to help Albertans in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Mackenzie County rebuild.

“The devastation caused by the flooding we saw in Fort McMurray and throughout the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Mackenzie County has impacted thousands of lives, washing away priceless memories and losing the security of your home or business,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a press release. “These immense challenges are only made worse by the ongoing pandemic, and I know that many people are overwhelmed and worried for the future. I want to tell you that your government is here for you. All of Alberta is here for you and, together, we will get through this and rebuild.”

Matthew Hough, the deputy chief administrative officer for the Rural Municipality of Wood Buffalo, explained some of the major damage the flooding did was to the sanitary system.

“We have extensive maintenance to do on our sanitary storm system,” said Hough. “The system includes a number of sewage lift stations – several need a major overhaul after the flood. They are operating but they are being kept alive on a wing and prayer. You can imagine the impact on the pumps being submerged in six feet of flood water.” 

Hough said roads, sidewalks, walking paths and street furniture were also damaged by the flood in addition to residents’ homes. 

“Money will find its way to support homeowners,” said Hough. “It will be on a case-by-case basis. It is going to be a lot of work to get through this recovery. Everyone’s needs are going to be different.”

Hough noted that because the community has been through other disasters and hardships, like the 2016 wildfires, it is resilient. 

“This region has been through more than its share of disasters, and I think the lessons learned from those experiences are already helping us organize in a way that’s going to be effective and productive this time around,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Hough said the region has had a flood mitigation program underway for a number of years which has spent $150 million on projects so far and work to protect the downtown portion of Lower Townsite in Fort McMurray will be complete at the end of the 2021 construction season.

Hough said the city is also weighing the difficult decision of trying to buy out certain at-risk properties in the future. 

“We will get to that in the coming weeks,” he said, adding the focus right now is getting displaced people and businesses the immediate help they need.

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