Rising rivers flood downtown Fort McMurray, prompting new evacuation orders

Flooding in Fort McMurray caused by ice jams in the rapidly thawing Athabasca River worsened overnight Sunday, prompting a new round of mandatory evacuation orders.

By Monday morning, access to the lower townsite had been closed by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. 

“Access to the Lower Townsite, including MacDonald Island, downtown and Waterways, is temporarily closed due to flooding concerns,” reads a municipal advisory issued shortly before 5 a.m.

“No entry is allowed. Residents who leave the Lower Townsite will not be allowed re-entry.” 

Rising water levels are now threatening homes and businesses in the heart of downtown, including Franklin Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Monday morning for Demers Drive, Armit Crescent, Fitzsimmons Avenue, Father Mercredi Street and the Platinum Hotel on Franklin Avenue. 

Residents on Pond Crescent, Poplar Crescent and the southern portion of Alberta Drive closest to Hospital Street were also told to move to higher ground. People with homes from Riedel Street to Marshall Street along Manning Avenue also received notice. 

Boil water advisory, state of emergency

Due to reports of discolouration in tap water of Fort McMurray neighbourhoods north of the Athabasca River bridges, Alberta Health Services has directed the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to issue a boil water advisory.

Water in the affected area is safe for bathing but should not be consumed by people or pets. 

Areas south of the Athabasca River bridges are not affected at this time, municipal officials said. 

Mandatory evacuations and a secondary state of local emergency were declared in Wood Buffalo on Sunday after rising water levels along the Athabasca, Snye and Clearwater rivers created a high risk of flash flooding. 

A local state of emergency had previously been declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Wood Buffalo also issued mandatory evacuation notices Sunday morning for Draper, an unincorporated community of around 187 people around 12 kilometres south of Fort McMurray, as well as the Taiga Nova Eco-Industrial Park. Longboat Landing in Fort McMurray also received notice later that afternoon.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, a voluntary evacuation order became mandatory for the Waterways area of Fort McMurray, including the Ptarmigan Trailer Park. 

The Athabasca continues to break and water levels remain extremely high, the municipality warned on Monday.  An ice jam, impeding the river’s flow, forced water to move in the opposite direction and eventually caused water levels to rise. 

Residents in flood-prone areas should prepare a 72-hour emergency kit and stay alert as the risk of further flooding remains high.  

Evacuees are being told to register at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre for more information on accommodations and emergency support.

People forced from their homes are reminded to with physical distancing measures recommended by Alberta Health Services as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The registration centre has been set up for drive-thru services to limit the risk of infection.

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