Homeowners Cora and Alec Dion pose in the basement of their home in Fort McMurray, Alta., on May 8, 2020. More than seven months ago, the Dions were forced to flee Fort McMurray for the second time in four years as a spring flood threatened their home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda

Fort McMurray residents still cleaning, considering options after spring flooding

‘It’s worse than just having water, because it’s ice mixed in with the water’

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — More than seven months ago, Cora Dion and her husband fled Fort McMurray for the second time in four years as a spring flood threatened their home in northern Alberta.

They returned to a soggy mess in the basement, a dispute with their insurance company and the near-foreclosure of their home in the city’s downtown.

“We’re home,” Dion said in an interview earlier this week. “Our basement is still naked, but we have hot water and we have a furnace.”

Dion is one of 13,000 residents who were forced to flee the city in late April when ice jams led to major flooding by causing the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers to overflow their banks.

The flooding came exactly four years after a destructive wildlife caused the evacuation of the entire city.

John Pomeroy, a Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change at the University of Saskatchewan, said floods caused by river ice breaking up can be some of the most damaging.

“It’s worse than just having water, because it’s ice mixed in with the water. The chunks of ice — some of them the size of houses — they do a lot of damage,” he said.

The disaster damaged at least 1,200 structures and caused $522 million in insurable damage to businesses, homes and vehicles, show the latest numbers from the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Another $147 million in provincial disaster relief went to other communities affected.

No one from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo was available for an interview, but an October news release said crews had installed temporary clay berms downtown and in other communities that were hit.

“We’re doing everything in our power to protect residents and businesses against overland flooding,” deputy chief administrative officer Matthew Hough said in the update.

He said the municipality is working toward more permanent solutions.

Pomeroy said berms are a start, but suggested officials should also consider making room for the river because climate change makes the size of future floods uncertain.

“That means starting to migrate the community’s infrastructure resources away from the floodplain and get homes out of danger, out of harm’s way,” he said.

“Fort McMurray is simply going to be subject to more floods because part of it is in the flood plain. The best way to deal with that is to get out of the flood plain.”

At least one Fort McMurray resident said she and her husband are considering a move to a safer location.

“We have four months until it’s flood season again, but I expect we will probably be looking for another place — something out of the fire zone and out of the flood zone,” said Therese Greenwood.

The Greenwoods lost their home in the fire and rebuilt it, but ended up selling the new house and renting a two-bedroom townhouse near the Clearwater River. They lost many of their belongings in the basement during the flood.

Greenwood said they have been able to live on the top floors of the condo for the last few months and were able to start using the basement again on Oct. 31.

“The neighbourhood that we are in was a complete construction zone from May until October 31st.”

She said it was difficult for people to get supplies because many stores in the downtown had been flooded. Some small businesses have never reopened, she added.

“It was a little bit like the fire again.”

The Dions, whose insurance policy didn’t cover any damage, have also been able to move back into their home, but they still have a lot of work to do in their basement.

“We have received our disaster relief funding,” Dion said, but noted the money didn’t come until November. “That took quite a long while, so really we aren’t going to be doing much work until spring.”

But she said they don’t plan to sell their home.

“It’s not a good time for that,” she said. “The housing market is horrible, people aren’t buying so that’s not really in our best interest.”

Dion said it’s all been a learning experience.

“My house didn’t burn down in the fire, but the fire was way scarier for me in terms of the trauma,” she said. “If I watch the videos (from the flood), I can get pretty upset … about the devastation in my basement, but it’s just stuff.”

She said they continue to recover from both.

“Never a dull moment around Fort McMurray.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

It was a special treat day at Points West Living in Stettler as the local Dairy Queen donated mini blizzard treats for residents and staff to enjoy. It was a way to celebrate the end of a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the facility. (Photos submitted)
It was a special treat day at Stettler’s Points West Living recently

Dairy Queen provided 150 mini-blizzards for staff and residents

book
Stettler Learning Centre staff broaden services in challenging times

“We are creative, we are innovative and we are resilient. We are flexible and we want to adapt.”

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Most Read