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Fort McMurray evacuees find refuge in University of Calgary residences

By Scott Strasser, May 10 2016 —

More than 1,200 Fort McMurray evacuees have found refuge at the University of Calgary after fleeing the city and surrounding areas due to escalating forest fires.

With the majority of students not living on campus for the summer, multiple U of C residences are currently housing the evacuees, who began arriving
May 6.

The U of C is one of four post-secondary institutions in Calgary currently housing evacuees.

U of C associate director of emergency management Bob Maber said Residence Services staff have been hard at work making the evacuees feel welcome.

“Staff have been working closely with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross and Alberta Health Services to make sure evacuees are receiving all of the assistance they need,” Maber said. “Among other things, Residence Services staff have been making food orders, assigning rooms, answering questions and handling housekeeping

Assistance is coming from across campus. The university has arranged for evacuees to have access to Active Living facilities, as well as the Taylor Family Digital Library.

The faculty of veterinary medicine is offering shelter and care for pets and small animals, while the faculty of social work is offering counselling.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected by the disastrous fires in northern Alberta, and with the firefighters and other first responders working tirelessly to contain it,” said U of C president Elizabeth Cannon. “Please know the entire University of Calgary community is behind you, and we will continue to work hard to support you in any way we can.”

Maber said Residence Services held a special Mother’s Day lunch for the evacuees on May 8.

“Our staff prepared a special meal and two big tables of flowers and cards were also distributed to the evacuee moms,” Maber said. “It was one more way we could extend our hospitality and make evacuees feel welcome — for moms, especially.”

Keyano College student and evacuee Nada Al-Khaladi brought her family to the U of C after staying at an Edmonton hotel for three nights. She said the wildfire forced her to miss her graduation ceremony, which would have taken place on May 6.

“It isn’t an ideal situation as a family to stay in a hotel. We were thinking to settle in Edmonton, but then a couple of our friends called us and said, ‘you know, the U of C is doing accommodation for evacuated families,’ so we came here,” Al-Khaladi said.

Around 88,000 Fort McMurray residents have evacuated the city since May 1. A mandatory evacuation order remains in place.

By May 10 the wildfire had spread to 2,300 square kilometres — almost three times the size of Calgary.

Vacant U of C residences last housed evacuees following the June 2013 flood, when just under 1,200 people were lodged. As of 9:00 p.m. on May 8, 1,241 Fort McMurray evacuees were staying at the U of C.

Once residences were at capacity, university staff set up cots in the Red Gym in the kinesiology building to house another 148 people.

Maber said he’s not sure how long the evacuees will stay.

“We will continue to provide assistance, but at this point the situation is very fluid,” he said.

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