Calgarian convoy heads north to help with Fort McMurray cleanup (May 19, 2016)

Written by Emma Mcintosh

Published by Calgary Herald on Thursday, May 19, 2016

The fleet of vehicles, sent by Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, includes equipment ranging from generators and satellite phones to wheelbarrows and shovels.

“The idea behind this is to get the equipment as close to Fort Mac as we can,” said Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Jeff Adams, who was on his way north. “You name a power tool, we got it.”

Adams said the organization, which was invited into the city by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, isn’t sending volunteers until the evacuation order has been lifted. However, more trucks will be sent north next week.

Once the province deems it safe to re-enter Fort McMurray, Adams said the disaster relief team will begin moving in. Though he’s not sure what they’ll be doing yet, he said they’ll likely be helping residents clean up their homes, sorting through ashes for any surviving mementoes and hauling away useless, burnt appliances. 

“Our main priority is to take care of people’s physical needs,” he said. 

“We go into a community like this, and if the homeowner wants our help, we’ll help them… regardless of their faith background.”

Samaritan’s Purse was also involved in recovery after the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire and the 2013 Southern Alberta floods. 

Its sister organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is also planning to send a group of chaplains to offer spiritual and emotional support. 

“This is a very traumatizing experience for a lot of people,” Adams said.  

“They want to do a lot of crying, a lot of talking.” 

Meanwhile, Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson said most of the city’s staff in Fort McMurray would be returning home in the next few days. A few transit and road workers will stay awhile longer, along with some 911 operators, although the city has offered more help if necessary.

“It has certainly been a very angry fire,” he said. “It’s not over. There will be more work for many years to come.” 

Over 80,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray and surrounding areas earlier this month. The province says re-entry is expected to begin on June 1.