The prime minister offered the displaced residents the full support of the federal government in recovering from the fire. More than 241,000 hectares (a half-million acres) of land have been burned to date, and half of Alberta’s oil sands industry in the region has been shut down since last week.
We ask you to join World Renew in praying for the people of Fort McMurray and for the emergency personnel responding to this disaster.
World Renew is networking with government officials and church and organizational representatives to plan out a response. Opportunities include respite and day care for families, support for working families who are displaced, legal and financial counseling, and spiritual support and chaplaincy services.
Thankfully, reports over the weekend indicated that the fire is now growing more slowly, and Canadian military forces began withdrawing transport planes and helicopters on May 12. Officials said that several hundred soldiers will remain at the ready should the conditions change. No injuries or deaths have been reported, and first damage reports indicated that about 10 percent of Fort McMurray’s buildings, or 2,400 homes, businesses, and offices were damaged or destroyed in the disaster.
World Renew interim director for Disaster Response Services (DRS), Andrew Ryskamp, met with U.S. Director Carol Bremer-Bennett, DRS Alberta Regional Managers Henry and Linda Visscher, and representatives from ministry partner the Reformed Church of America (RCA) yesterday for a status update. Ryskamp then traveled to Alberta on Friday, May 13, to connect personally with members of the Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference, Christian Labour Association of Canada, Diaconal Ministries Canada, local churches members who were displaced by the fire, and CRC congregations in nearby areas that are assisting evacuees.
Residents displaced from Fort McMurray have been sheltered with friends and family or in temporary housing. Evergreen CRC in Fort McMurray and Trinity CRC in Edmonton are among those helping displaced church members with immediate needs and transportation. Trinity CRC in Edmonton held a prayer service on May 4 that included many displaced families, and several CRC members have also opened their doors to take in people who had nowhere else to go.
“Last night we heard from Evergreen CRC members what their journey has been,” Ryskamp said. “Out of the four homes represented, only one had lost their home to the fire. Their immediate needs are taken care of, but they are eager to see what is next for them.”
While Prime Minister Trudeau indicated today that the government and other organizations are providing for the immediate needs of evacuees, Ryskamp said that it is not uncommon for there to be gaps in provision of care. “It is these gaps that World Renew will be looking to fill in the coming days and weeks,” Ryskamp said. “It is through our churches that opportunities to serve and care for those in need will be identified.”
“It is through our churches that opportunities to serve and care for those in need will be identified.”
As of today, the town has not been cleared for residents to re-enter, and the Visschers indicate that “no one will be allowed in for quite some time yet. It will be at least two weeks before residents will even know when they will be escorted into the town to see what has happened to their homes and neighborhoods.”
“Once it is safe to visit the area, we will be able to better coordinate our efforts and determine our first steps in recovery,” Henry Visscher added. “It will take a long, coordinated effort between local officials, non-governmental organizations, and the provincial emergency agency to meet the needs of fire survivors.”
This kind of collaboration is a crucial part of disaster recovery, Ryskamp says. World Renew DRS is part of a council of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that respond to disasters in Canada. These organizations are coordinating an early response to the fire, including Samaritans Purse Canada and the Mennonite Disaster Service.
"Our relationship with other organizations, including the provincial government agencies, has been strengthened in the past few years through responses like the one World Renew DRS managed in High River. We will continue to work together to ensure that the Fort McMurray fire survivors are cared for.”
World Renew is ready to send in volunteer teams to assist with clean-up when it is safe for residents and workers to enter the fire area. World Renew's strength is in long-term response, and it's clear that the people of Fort McMurray have a long recovery ahead. World Renew will support the Fort McMurray community, churches, and families as they recover.
“We ask you to join World Renew in praying for the people of Fort McMurray and for the emergency personnel responding to this disaster,” Henry and Linda Visscher said. “Pray for safety and that the fires will be contained.”