Lessons to be learned from Fort McMurray rebuilding
It would be wishful thinking to believe one year after the Fort McMurray wildfire that everything in northeastern Canada had returned to normal — or that things at least are well on the way back to normal.
It’s human nature to want the best for people who have suffered such great misfortune.
There’s been a lot of news coverage marking the one-year anniversary of this all-embracing calamity that cut such a vast swath and uprooted so many lives. Recovery is coming slowly but unevenly. The rate at which people retrieve past lives and rebuild lost homes seems now as unjust and arbitrary as the fire itself, which burned one house to the foundation but left the neighbour’s home scorched and smoking but still standing.
As the stories gathered by The Journal’s team of reporters and photographers show, many in the city are rebuilding and have returned to relative normalcy.
For thousands of others, however, the flames are long gone but the disaster has morphed into a slower-moving nightmare of bureaucracy and red tape.
Some homeowners are wrangling with insurance companies to settle claims while others struggle to navigate the regulations and logistics of rebuilding. A portion are stranded in limbo because their properties are in areas at risk of flooding and landslide.
It’s disheartening to learn that some of those residents whose houses were left standing now wish their homes had been destroyed because the damage from a nearby fire, from smoke or firefighters’ water or nearby bulldozing of firebreaks is insidious, costly to fix and unfortunately open to vigorous dispute from insurers.
Businesses — from mom-and-pop restaurants to multinational oilsands miners — have not had an easy go of it either. Besides a fortune in lost revenue and frayed infrastructure, they are now scrambling to replace workers that scattered across the country after the fire.
Schoolchildren must now make up months of lost lessons and some residents and first responders are now dealing with psychological disorders and anxiety attacks. Healing takes time as well as strength.
With three epic natural disasters in recent years — the Slave Lake wildfire, flooding in southern Canada, and the Fort McMurray blaze — authorities have learned best practices in immediate response such as evacuating communities and caring for victims.
Where it still seems we lack is in getting people smoothly back into their homes once the immediate crisis has passed. That’s what Canada must take stock of now.
It’s months after such disasters where we need to improve our response — with getting people back on their feet and into their homes sooner.
Local editorials are the consensus opinion of the Journal’s editorial board, comprising Mark Iype, Dave Breakenridge, Sarah O’Donnell, Bill Mah and David Evans.
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