Fort McMurray – a community in Wood Buffalo, Alberta which suffered a catastrophic wildfire in 2016 – is now contending with flooding so severe that some residents have been forced to evacuate.
The area, considered the hub for Canada’s oil sands industry, is still subject to restrictions on movement and many businesses are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The regional municipality of Wood Buffalo ordered mandatory evacuations of some residents earlier this week after ice jams caused the Athabasca River to overflow and spill into the riverbanks.
Deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said that the federal government is looking “very urgently” at different ways to help the flood-affected areas.
“The fact that flooding season and, in due course, forest fire season, is coinciding with coronavirus in Canada is posing some special challenges,” the deputy prime minister said in a statement earlier this week.
Don Scott, the mayor of Wood Buffalo, has asked for military help to deal with the flood’s impact. Reuters reported that the regional municipality’s food bank was flooded and was forced to close.
Provincial chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that Alberta had expected some overlap of the pandemic with floods and fires, and that the provincial government will ensure that evacuation centres maintain standards for physical distancing and sanitation.