Alberta government to provide emergency cash payments to flood victims forced from homes

The Alberta government will provide emergency cash payments to thousands of people in northern Alberta who have been evacuated from their homes because of flooding.

Payments of $1,250 for adults and $500 for children will cost the province $11.7 million

Flooding in Fort McMurray, Alta., has forced the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes and left much of downtown under water. (Axel Tardieu/CBC)

The Alberta government will provide emergency cash payments to thousands of people in northern Alberta who have been evacuated from their homes because of flooding.

The payments of $1,250 for adults and $500 for children will cost the province $11.7 million for one week, Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday at a news conference.

The flooding in Fort McMurray was caused by massive ice jams on the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers. About 13,000 people there have been forced from their homes.

Another 450 people have been evacuated from Fort Vermilion and the Tall Cree First Nation due to flooding on the Peace River in Mackenzie County.

Kenney had some good news about the flooding.

"We are encouraged to see the ice jams are beginning to clear on both the Athabasca and the Peace rivers, and that water volumes are starting to go down, and are hopeful that in the next 48 to 72 hours we'll see a significant abatement of the flood conditions in both Fort McMurray, Fort Vermilion and elsewhere," Kenney said.

Four kilometres of the ice jam on the Athabasca River had melted overnight, the premier said, and the water level in the river below the Highway 63 bridge has dropped by half a metre since Tuesday night.

Good news

There was also good news for those in the Fort Vermilion area, said Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

"There was a melt out there some time last night, and the remaining ice has begun to flow out of that community's area. The flooding has stopped within the community. I don't want to say the emergency situation is over, because it's not. Obviously we have to go through the process of getting the … water out of town and back into the river.

Alberta Environment will closely watch the remaining ice as it flows down the river, he said, to see how it might affect communities downstream.

"But at this point we're not expecting a major impact as a result of that ice, and the focus inside Mackenzie County has gone to keeping care of evacuees and beginning to have the conversation about recovery and clean-up," Nixon said.

Tailings ponds safe, minister says

Nixon said no tailings ponds have been breached and there is no imminent risk of floodwater breaching any in the oilsands region.

"Currently, floodwaters remain below the dams for all tailing ponds and monitoring has been increased to twice daily to ensure stability and risk associated with all tailing ponds," he said.

The Alberta Energy Regulator is holding daily calls with operators to discuss the flood situation and has regulatory agents on side conducting field verifications "and closely monitoring the companies' actions to ensure the situation remains stable," he said.

"Further response strategies do exist in the event circumstances were to change significantly from the current state. But I want to reiterate things would have to change significantly and the situation around tailing ponds is stable. This is good news."

Flood costs

Kenney said it's too early to give an accurate estimate on the overall flood-response costs.

"When I was up in Fort McMurray the other day, municipal officials thought it would be at least north of $30 million, based on previous experiences. And that's just the emergency response." 

After that comes the rebuild, Kenney said.

"We believe the criteria have been triggered for us to bring in the disaster recovery program," he said.

Under that program, the provincial government would provide some financial support for recovery costs for critical public infrastructure and non-insured private infrastructure.

"Given the gravity of the flood, at least the one in Wood Buffalo, it's estimated by the river experts to be a one-in-100-year event, so it would certainly apply, in principle, under the disaster recovery program."

Evacuees can apply online for their emergency evacuation payments starting at noon on Monday, May 4, the province said in a news release.

It can take up to 24 hours for funds to be e-transferred into bank accounts, the releases said. Those unable to receive e-transfers can make other arrangements through the Alberta Supports Contact Centre at 1-877-644-9992.


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