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Comments that Lac La Biche was "full" disputed by evacuation officials

Not all who registered chose to stayed, say officials

While news reports from some provincial outlets stated that evacuees from Fort McMurray who arrived in Lac La Biche on Tuesday evening were greeted with a shortage of available accommodations, officials with Lac La Biche County say that wasn’t entirely the case. 

When asked if there were enough hotel rooms for everyone, Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesperson for Lac La Biche, said there were.  

As of last Friday, the registration centre had recorded 930 evacuees. 

Moghrabi stated that the County put up as many of the evacuee as possible in local accommodations, while others opted to register in Lac La Biche and go to nearby communities or stay with family members in the area. Although he couldn’t say for certain, Moghrabi believes that some of these rooms were in Plamondon as well. 

“We placed as many people as we could locally in hotels,” he told Lakeland This Week, last Friday morning, the third day of what is expected to be a seven-day evacuation process 

There is an inventory of about 450 rooms in a half dozen hotel and motel structures in the Lac La Biche and Plamondon communities. It is not known, however, how many of those rooms were already occupied at the time the evacuation order was given to about 8,000 residents of four Fort McMurray subdivisions forced to flee a 20,000-hectare forest fire that was moving towards the northern city. It is also unclear whether any groups of evacuees may have pre-paid and reserved  blocks of  rooms once the evacuation order was given.  

Hotel as evac centre 

Moghrabi said the community and local emergency coordinators did the best to accommodate those in need who arrived at the Parkland 1 Hotel, which had been repurposed into the evacuation centre headquarters. 

“I’m pretty sure we always had space for people who need it, but you know, again, it’s difficult to know in an emergency situation.” 

He estimates at least 500 evacuees remained in the Lac La Biche area after registering. 

 “Some people registered at our centre and then moved onto other communities like Cold Lake, or Edmonton, Bonnyville ...,” he said, adding that the response from local hotel management and its staff, as well as municipal employees was positive, despite the relatively short notice of the evacuation. He said it was good to see the community businesses working with the municipality and emergency services. 

“We’re happy that they were able to help us out in that way,” he said. 

In 2016, during a forest fire that forced all residents of Fort McMurray to evacuate, Lac La Biche was also one of the province’s approved evacuation centres. In that instance, however, the evacuation centre was at the 200,000 square foot Bold Centre recreation complex. During that evacuation, portions of the Bold Center were converted into sleeping areas for evacuees and shifts of municipal employees were re-purposed to help with the emergency services. 

Lac La Biche officials claimed more than one million dollars in compensation from the provincial government’s disaster relief fund for the weeks of assistance provided in the 2016 fire.  

It is not known if similar compensation programs will be offered to communities this time. 

According to Lac La Biche County officials, this assistance being offered in recent days at Lac La Biche’s evacuation centre includes helping with temporary accommodations, emergency social services, online supports and medical assistance. Local FCSS staff, Moghrabi explained, were also connecting evacuees with meal services, pet care and mental health supports.  

“We continue to provide services to the evacuees,” he stated on Friday.  

Moghrabi said that there is no anticipated date to close the reception centre, which will continue to provide services to evacuees until they make their way back home.   

Lac La Biche’s emergency response coordinator and Regional Fire Chief John Kokotilo says if the weather continues to help firefighters control the 20,000-hectare blaze, the evacuees could be returning home by May 21. 

Days-away compensation 

Provincially, a compensation package for evacuees has been approved, with every adult evacuee eligible for an emergency payment of $1,250 and every child evacuee eligible for a $500 payment. Government of Alberta officials have said the payments will be available to evacuees displaced for seven days or more. 

According to Steve Buick, a spokesperson for the Government of Alberta, even if evacuees are not away for the full seven days they can still qualify for the provincial funding, as these do not have to be consecutive days.   

“For example, individuals who return to their homes after four days and are ordered to evacuate again are eligible after a total of seven or more combined days,” he explained.  



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