Edmonton

One month after devastating flood, Fort Vermilion looking to start rebuild

Fort Vermilion residents and businesses owners have a lot of work and tough decisions ahead in its recovery from severe flooding in late April.

'The building could be repaired, but it's in the floodplain. I'm extremely reluctant to do anything to it'

Jan Welke still hasn't reopened the doors to his Fort Vermilion pharmacy after the community was flooded in late April. (Submitted by Jan Welke)

Fort Vermilion residents and businesses owners have a lot of work and tough decisions ahead in its recovery from severe flooding in late April.

Mackenzie County is still analyzing its rebuilding options, which include moving or rebuilding houses on higher ground.

"Big, tough decisions have to be made," said reeve Josh Knelson. "We're still trying to gather facts and information to produce options as to how to move forward to fix everything." 

More than 150 structures were damaged in the northern hamlet, 660 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, when an ice jam caused the nearby Peace River to overflow on April 26.

About 260 residents are still unable to return to their homes, said Knelson.

Emergency housing options are being considered for the 568 residents who are registered as evacuees, the county said. 

Residents are expected to apply for financial help through the provincial disaster recovery program.

The province has received 66 applications so far, said Alberta's Municipal Affairs Ministry. 

Residents unsure what to do

Fort Vermilion resident Ray Toews owns three businesses that were damaged by the flood waters.

He was able to reopen his cannabis store but hasn't tackled the repairs at his laundromat.

Toews doesn't know what to do about his hardware store, which currently sits empty, stripped of drywall and flooring.

Water carried blocks of ice to the doorstep of Ray Toews' hardware store when the Peace River overflowed in late April. (Submitted by Ray Toews)

"The building could be repaired, but it's in the floodplain. I'm extremely reluctant to do anything to it because nobody can guarantee that it won't flood again next year," the 67-year-old said. 

"I'm not up to building a brand new building and starting over again." 

Like most Fort Vermilion residents and business owners, Toews could not insure his property for flood damage.

He's applied for funding through the provincial disaster recovery program to help cover the cost of repairs.

"It's obviously not as quick as we'd like it to be," he said. "We'd like to have it all fixed up two weeks ago but that's not realistic. I'm sure we'll get going as soon as the system allows."

A lot of frustration

Pharmacist Jan Welke is also waiting for financial help from the province to repair his Fort Vermilion pharmacy.

He's been running a small makeshift pharmacy out of another building to help residents access medications. 

"It's been stressful," Welke said. "About half of our staff also lost their homes, so it's been very troubling and trying out there for them."

The next few weeks will be critical for the community, he said, as residents seek answers on how the rebuilding process will proceed. 

"There's still a lot of unanswered questions and people unsure of what's going to happen," Welke said. "That's very difficult if you don't have a home."

The walls and flooring had to be stripped from Jan Welke's pharmacy. (Submitted by Jan Welke)

Knelson said he understands residents are frustrated and asks for patience.

"It's been a long time that they've been out of their homes now and frustration is bound to kick in," he said. 

"We're trying to figure out exactly what all the options are and then getting as much information about those options to the community. Because at the end of the day, it's up to the community to decide what they want."

Mackenzie County is planning on holding a public meeting next week to present rebuilding options to residents.

About the Author

Josee St-Onge

Journalist

Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at josee.st-onge@cbc.ca

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