More than 80,000 wildfire evacuees will start receiving direct financial assistance Wednesday from the Alberta government and the Canadian Red Cross, as officials asked for patience in getting residents home following the devastating wildfire in Canada’s oil sands town of Fort McMurray.
Canadian Red Cross chief executive Conrad Sauve said in a news conference that each adult will receive $600 Canadian (US$467) and each child will get $300 Canadian (US$234) in what he called the most important and fastest direct cash transfer in the organization’s history. It totals $50 million Canadian. (US$39 million).
That’s in addition to $1,250 Canadian (US$973) per adult and $500 Canadian (US$390) per dependent that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said will be available starting Wednesday. Notley asked those who don’t need emergency funding to let those who do line up first for debit cards. The newly announced Red Cross payments will also start Wednesday and will be via electronic transfers.
“We already know that the damage resulting from the wildfires will be in the billions and it will take years to recover, but also know that the needs of those affected are immediate,” Sauve said.
Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen said the wildfire is outside of the city, and moving south. He said residents can’t come back until it is safe and workers have checked power and water supplies. The fire burned about 2,400 homes and buildings but 90 percent of the city was saved.
Those with intact homes have pressed to return much sooner. Notley has warned police will turn people away if they try to enter before the city is reopened.
Notley said she will meet with her cabinet on Thursday to discuss when some residents can return but repeated her vow to get information to people within two weeks of last Monday.
About $67 million Canadian (US$52 million) has been donated to the Red Cross thus far and both the provincial and federal governments have said they will match what is given to the Red Cross.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will visit Fort McMurray on Friday, announced he has created an ad hoc cabinet committee to coordinate federal recovery and rebuilding efforts.