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Fort McMurray families clean up after sewer backup

Some residents in a Fort McMurray subdivision are cleaning up two days after raw sewage backed up through their toilets and drains, flooding basements with waste water and sludge.

Wood Buffalo municipality says a grease buildup in the sewer caused the problem

Some residents in a Fort McMurray subdivision are cleaning up two days after raw sewage backed up through their toilets and drains, flooding basements with waste water and sludge. 0:40

Some residents in a Fort McMurray subdivision are cleaning up two days after raw sewage backed up through their toilets and drains, flooding basements with waste water and sludge.

People in the subdivision of Thickwood say they reached out to CBC because they weren't getting answers from the municipality of Wood Buffalo.

George and Samantha Armstrong, who live on Rose Bay, are now living in a trailer in their backyard because their home reeks of sewage.

Pictures submitted by Kristy Addison show her basement flooding on Monday after a sewer back-up in Fort McMurray. (Kristy Addison/ Submitted)

Their basement is covered with brown sludge and littered with soiled photos, carpet, musical instruments and appliances.

"I don't feel we should have to cover the cost of cleaning it up," George Armstrong said.

The couple already threw out their wedding photos, which were destroyed in the flood.

"Our wedding photos are covered in poop," he said. "Yesterday was the hardest day, throwing out your wedding photos."

Grease build-up blamed

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said in an email to CBC on Wednesday that the sewer backup happened at around 6 p.m. on Monday.

"A blockage, composed of grease and debris in the main sewer line at Rose Bay, restricted flow at the same time that runoff from rain events increased the volume of waste entering the sewer," municipal spokesperson Jordan Redshaw said.

George Armstrong surveys the damage in his basement. (David Thurton/ CBC)

He said the municipality eventually cleared the blockage.

So far, Redshaw said, seven residents have contacted the municipality. He urged any others affected to call their private insurers or Wood Buffalo Insurance Services to apply to talk about compensation. 

'Not again'

Kristy Addison was outside enjoying the last of her long weekend on Monday when she suddenly heard a gush of water in her basement.

She ran downstairs in her bungalow, also on Rose Bay, but stopped as water began to creep up the steps.

Addison said she had just finished repairs after her basement flooded in 2016 under similar circumstances.

"I screamed at the top of my lungs, 'Not again!' " Addison said. "And yelled at my boyfriend to come and help, and I just started bawling.

Kristy Addison tried to block her toilet from overflowing by using a towel. (Kristy Addison/ Submitted)

"As soon as I even opened the doors and hit the bottom of the stairs, you could smell the sewage."

A couple of blocks over on Rosslyn Street, fleets of restoration vehicles were parked outside homes.

But Sandra Fifi and her husband were cleaning out the mess themselves. On Monday night, their couch and basement freezer were swimming in sewage.

"This is all contaminated stuff," Fifi said. "Everything was floating. Everything you see here is garbage, and it is going to the dump."

Affected? The municipality advises:

  • Affected residents should contact their insurer and Wood Buffalo municipality's insurance services at 780-793-1145.
  • If residents are concerned about the drinking water in their homes they should contact underground services at 780-799-5823 to get tests done.
  • The municipality advises affected residents to document in detail all damage before throwing anything away.
  • All receipts for costs incurred during clean-up should be kept.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.