Alberta announces $24M in wildfire disaster relief

Alberta announces $24M in wildfire disaster relief

20 May 2011

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Canada — Slave Lake Catholic school teachers Stacey and Charles Lang and their four-year-old son Logan were among hundreds of fire evacuees who lined up Friday at the Edmonton Expo Centre to get financial assistance from the province.

The Langs received a total of $3,000 under one of two disaster relief programs the province of Alberta launched Friday. The programs are worth a total of $24 million. They are part of a previously announced $50-million relief program and designed to give financial and housing help to wildfire evacuees from the Lesser Slave Lake area.

“I think they’re doing everything they can,” Charles Lang said outside the Edmonton evacuation centre.

“Everybody’s in a state of devastation and the fact that they stepped up and have done something so quickly says a lot … I think everybody is really appreciating the support. If the government and everyone else hadn’t responded the way they have, people could be far worse off than they are.”

The Langs got in line around 10:30 a.m. Friday, got an application form and took a number. They got their money about four and a half hours later.

“We were number 113. I know that some of our friends in there have ticket 560 or something like that,” said Stacey Lang, 28.

“We had to wait a long time but they did what they could.”

Under the $9-million financial assistance program, each adult is eligible to receive $1,250 and children under 18 years old are eligible for $500. The money is to help pay costs related to being evacuated from their homes, Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said Friday.

The province is trying to keep the application process “as non-bureaucratic as possible” and the money — in the form of pre-loaded Visa cards and cheques — started going out to evacuees Friday, he said.

“They have incurred so many losses. They’re wearing donated clothing and they’re eating at shelters and sleeping at shelters.”

The province’s priority is to get the money quickly to people staying in evacuation centres, including Athabasca and Westlock. The province is asking evacuees who don’t urgently need assistance, those staying with relatives or friends, to wait until at least next week to apply for help.

Evacuees registered with the Red Cross can apply for financial assistance at the evacuation centres or at any Alberta Works office in the province during regular business hours.

Another new program, the Emergency Accommodation Plan, is working to move people out of the evacuation centres and into more comfortable housing, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Jonathan Denis said.

The $15-million plan will focus on helping people who don’t have adequate insurance and those with limited money. The province will cover up to 100 per cent of housing costs for those evacuees until the end of August, Denis said.

That could include costs such as rent, damage deposits, hookup fees and utility charges.

After Aug. 31, the province will reassess their ongoing housing needs.

“Our main focus right now is getting people the assistance they need (to get out of the evacuation centres). I can’t imagine what they’ve been through the last week,” Denis said.

“We want to help as many families from Slave Lake get back on their feet as soon as possible … I don’t think any of us have seen a disaster of this scale in Alberta.”

The province is compiling an inventory of available housing that could accommodate evacuees, including apartments, university and college student residences and provincial housing stock such as social housing and government-owned seniors units.

The province is also approaching local housing authority partners it works with on affordable housing and homeless assistance projects to see what housing is available in various communities, Denis said.

“We do know that disasters can happen and that’s why we have a network of (housing) management bodies like this,” he said.

Red Cross and provincial government staff started gathering information this week from people staying in evacuation centres to find out what kind of housing they need, depending on whether their houses were unscathed by fire, need repairs or were destroyed, Housing and Urban Affairs spokesman Dan Laville said.

The Red Cross has been moving evacuees into hotel rooms as a short-term solution. The province is helping people find longer-term housing.

“We’re starting to match up evacuees with these different places,” Laville said.

“Our goal is to help people into temporary accommodation as soon as we can, with priority on those people who are in the evacuation centres … We have been able to place a few people already.”

Evacuees applying for housing assistance can apply at evacuee reception centres.

Evacuees must register with the Red Cross at evacuee reception centres or by calling 1-800-565-4483 to be eligible for the provincial assistance programs. They must have a registration number, said Red Cross spokeswoman Leila Daoud.

More than 4,000 evacuees have already registered with the Red Cross and that number is growing, she said from the Athabasca evacuation centre where people were lined up to apply for assistance

Government information and application forms are online at in the Slave Lake Recovery section.

Help is currently available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. seven days a week at evacuee reception centres in Athabasca, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, High Prairie, Peace River, Valleyview, Wabasca and Westlock.

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