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Just Another Kick in the Teeth: Fort McMurray Residents Still Cleaning up After Devastating Floods

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Paul Rothwells plumbing shop in Fort McMurrays Lower Townsite was one of hundreds of businesses and homes deluged after the spring thaw turned ice jams on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers into a giant bowl of expanding water.

“Ive made millions in Fort McMurray and Ive lost millions in Fort McMurray, but its home,” said Rothwell, whose 25-year plumbing business sat in three feet of water at the height of the flooding.

But its not the first time Rothwell has experienced the cruel hand of nature in the Alberta oil boomtown.

“Before it was the fires, millions gone. … But its not about the money, I can make it back again. Its just another kick in the teeth.”

On April 28, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo issued evacuation orders for the area and more than two weeks later many residents and business owners are still pumping out and surveying the damage, both in Fort McMurray and other flooded locales along the Athabasca River.

On May 8, when the Alberta government pledged $147 million in flood relief for the region, Premier Jason Kenney described the cause of the flood as “a one-in-100-year event in Fort McMurray triggered by an ice jam that was, at one point, 23 kilometres long.”

Rothwell, who now lives in Stratford, Ontario, returned on May 7 to see what was salvageable from his shop—which had been up for sale but thats now on hold—and to do what he could to help.

“I love Fort McMurray, its my friends there, its my town,” he said, adding that he was worried for his community. “How much more can you go through? The mental state here is precarious.”

Restrictions on businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic have only added to the economic pressures facing the Alberta energy hub, which has been suffering through the worst oil prices in a century and billions in capital exodus, including Tecks decision to shelve its $20 billion Frontier mine in the region.

The flooding and the wreckage it leaves behind comes less than four years after raging wildfires forced the evacuation of all 60,000 inhabitants and resulted in nearly 2,000 homes going up in smoke.

While most homes remain standing as the water recedes, its a race against time to clean and strip the interior structures before theyre rendered unliveable by contamination and the onset of mould.

“It consists of taking belongings out to the street that have been affected by the floodwaters, furniture and appliances, and then you might be taking the flooring and the drywall and insulation out,” is how Tammy Suitor describes a typical salvage job on a home.

Based out of a Samaritans Purse-run “disaster relief mobile unit”—a tractor-trailer rig loaded with gear—Suitor has brought nearly a dozen volunteers from Calgary to help organize locals to go house-by-house, managing 120 requests to date for decontamination assistance.

“Once weve vacuumed it all out, swept it all out, then we apply the shockwave of hospital grade disinfectant and it will take care of any of the bacteria, the mould, and leave it in a place where the homeowner can just rebuild.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Volunteers with Samaritans Purse move a washing machine out a flood-damaged home in Fort McMurray. (Courtesy of Samaritans Purse)

Invited by the municipality of Wood Buffalo to help out, this is the Christian charitys second visit to Fort McMurray.

Following the 2016 wildfires, Samaritans Purse sent a similar contingent, which spent two months sifting through debris for family heirlooms and keepsakes, and removing contaminated refrigerators and freezers from homes that were spared from the flames but were without power for weeks.

“Some of the people affected by the fires have also been affected by the floods, so thats been reallyRead More – Source