Fort McMurray evacuees report slow service, few resources at Edmonton evacuation centre

Mayor Sandy Bowman had nothing but praise for evacuation centres in Cold Lake and Lac La Biche, but is concerned about complaints about slow service, few resources in Edmonton.

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There was so much goodwill for Fort McMurray evacuees in 2016 that the Red Deer evacuation centre where Brittany Hamilton volunteered had to stop accepting donations.

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But more than 24 hours after another wildfire forced Hamilton’s family to leave her Abasand home, she was still trying to register with the Canadian Red Cross and get a hotel room in Edmonton.

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All her three kids had been given that day were two red balls to play with, some water bottles and Rice Krispie bars. It was not until 10 p.m. when a hotel room had been found for the family.

“Experiencing this has not been smooth by any means. There’s been misdirection, a lot of false information out there. There’s not much resources and not a lot of help,” she said.

“You wait four to six hours waiting in line, than you wait for a hotel voucher and that can take three hours. We wait all day not knowing if there’s going to be room or when we can get a room.”

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More than 6,600 evacuees were told to leave Abasand, Beacon Hill, Grayling Terrace and Prairie Creek on Tuesday. Evacuees reported few problems registering for support at evacuation centres in Cold Lake and Lac La Biche.

But at the Clareview Recreation Centre in Edmonton, evacuees have reported long waits for hotels, very little to eat and not enough donated items like clothes. The most common problem reported by evacuees in Edmonton is that the Canadian Red Cross required in-person registration while the Alberta government allows evacuees to register online.

A statement from the City of Edmonton said the reception centre is prepared to offer the emotional and logistical needs of Fort McMurray evacuees.

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“Our response to reception centres is scalable, depending on the unique or emerging needs of each situation and the availability of services within the community,” it said.

Mayor Sandy Bowman had nothing but praise for the evacuation centres in Cold Lake and Lac La Biche, but was alarmed about the number of complaints people at the Edmonton evacuation centre had about food, lodging and service.

“I am looking into it with the Canadian Red Cross and the Regional Emergency Coordination Centre,” he said on Thursday evening. “It’s a very stressful time and we want to make sure our residents are treated fairly and accommodated in an evacuation.”

patrick gomez
Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Patrick Gomez and his son Kalix Gomez, 1, wait for help outside an evacuee centre set up at the Clareview Recreation Centre in Edmonton, Wednesday May 15, 2024. Gomez, his girlfriend, their son, two cats, and two bearded dragons spent last night sleeping in their vehicle in Lac La Biche after being evacuated. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM /Postmedia

Patrick Gomez and his family spent the first night of their evacuation in Lac La Biche. Hotel rooms had filled quickly in the town, so they slept in his jeep.

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He went to Edmonton the next day, fully confident that the city would have the supports needed for himself, his partner, their one-year-old son, two cats and two bearded dragons. But volunteers could not find any overnight accommodations for their pets. On Wednesday, he was looking for a place to rent.

“We really thought we would get support. Honestly, I’m kind of disappointed. I don’t even know what to say,” he said. “I thought last time we had support for all of Fort McMurray and this is the area I was actually expecting support. You would think that we would (do better) than the last time.”

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