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"They're so helpful, it's just crazy" - Alberta fire evacuees share experience

Photo: Keith Howie/Canadian Red Cross

Ever since Megan Whitmore ran from her house, strapped her naked baby in his car seat and fled ahead of advancing flames, the Fort McMurray mother says she can’t say enough nice things about Canadian Red Cross and its amazing donors.

“Red Cross are the most helpful people I have ever seen in my life. Every time I have a question or problem, they’ve been there to answer it. We get emails with more information and even money, which is so appreciated! They’re so helpful, it’s just crazy,” Whitmore said recently at the Red Cross evacuation centre at the University of Calgary (U of C).

Whitmore’s partner, Charles Jones, agreed. “When we got the email giving us $600 each, plus money for Ethan (the baby), we were so happy. Red Cross and the people donating are the best. We really want to thank everyone for all this. It’s incredible,” he said.
“It was really tough leaving town, driving 20 hours with a little guy in the car, not knowing what we would do, leaving everything behind,” said Jones.

Whitmore said she was at home with 18-month-old Ethan when she heard Fort McMurray was being evacuated. “I just shoved whatever was in the laundry basket into a suitcase, grabbed some work papers and whatever important documents I could find, and threw it all into the car.

“I put Ethan in his car seat with just a diaper on, carried out our 150-pound dog and some food, and we left. I didn’t even know where Charles was. He was at work,” she said.
Jones, a scaffolder on contract with Syncrude, was with his work crew outside town. As the skies darkened with smoke, they were evacuated first to a company camp, and later drove through Fort McMurray for a long, slow crawl to Edmonton.

“It was like a scene out of The Walking Dead in town. Cars, ATVs and stuff were abandoned all over the place. As we went over the bridge, I could see the treeline just lit up and burning. The sky was glowing. I could tell the houses where we lived were all burning.”
Jones’ neighbourhood was destroyed in the blaze. Now, they’re living with friends in Calgary and trying to figure out what to do next. Jones was born and raised in Fort McMurray. Whitmore works at a liquor store there. Both hope to go back. In the meantime, they’re just grateful for the overwhelming support from old friends and many new ones.

“We brought almost nothing with us, so the Red Cross money and vouchers for gas and groceries and everything really means a lot.”

While Whitmore talked at the Red Cross evacuation centre at U of C, a complete stranger walked up, handed the family several new baby sleepers and walked away before they realized what happened.
“Oh my goodness!” said Whitmore. “I didn’t even get a chance to say a proper thank you! I just can’t believe this. People here are the best.”

Starting on May 11, Red Cross is providing immediate financial assistance totalling $50 million to more than 80,000 people displaced by the Alberta wildfires. Adult evacuees registered with Red Cross are receiving $600 each and children receive $300 so families and individuals can buy what they most urgently need during this difficult time. The distribution of emergency funds is occurring in different ways – including electronic bank transfers via email, money orders, cash cards and vouchers – depending on people’s circumstances.

After just one day, more than half - $30 million – was successfully given to 64,000 people by electronic bank transfers. Eighty-five per cent of the funds have already been cashed by recipients. The electronic transfers represent the largest and fastest distribution of immediate financial assistance to people in Canadian Red Cross history.

The fund transfers were made possible by Canadians who have donated more than $86 million so far to the Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal. The Canadian Red Cross continues to reach all registered evacuees, ensuring no one is left without assistance. For as long as it takes, Red Cross will help people and communities rebuild and recover from this disaster.
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