Halfway between Fort McMurray and Saskatoon, Albertans are bracing for the incoming army, as they join in the desperate search and rescue efforts after a catastrophic wildfire devastated the eastern part of the province. After dark, more than 50 soldiers could be seen searching for survivors along Highway 63, in extremely treacherous terrain where 100 millimeters of rain has fallen in 24 hours. As word spread that the Canadian military was headed to the region, an army convoy began speeding north on Tuesday. “We are not out of this thing by a long shot,” said Premier Rachel Notley of Alberta in a tweet.
And as the possibility of evacuating more evacuees looms, officials in the city of Fort McMurray are scrambling to rebuild roads to remain functional. After much delay, repairs began on Monday night. “My concern has been and remains the potential for people and goods to be removed or hoarded in order to curtail the arrival of the Canadian military or our soldiers,” the Alberta Minister of Transportation, Brian Mason, told reporters on Tuesday. As this de facto emergency was beginning to unfold, the oil sands region was rocked by a series of natural disasters. The surrounding city of Fort McMurray was also affected by the collapse of the Athabasca River, which damaged three hospitals. By Tuesday, Alberta had already opened the doors of 17 open evacuation centers to handle more than 50,000 evacuees from the region.
Two hundred and fifteen people remained unaccounted for on Tuesday, Notley told reporters. But she said she was hopeful the mission would prove successful — the sense of urgency felt by officials is nowhere near as dire as the current Ebola outbreak. “This is our time to act. We will continue to provide leadership here to the troops,” Notley said. “This is how the leader of a province acts when crises arise and we will do it.”