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Local Fort McMurray resident who lost her home to wildfires returns to assist others

Guest post and photos by Bob Wallace, Canadian Red Cross

Grabbing her wallet, phone, jacket, and just a few things she could stuff into a small backpack, Cathy Lu had very little time to meet the demands of the mandatory evacuation order that came just a month ago. Showers of ash were descending on her street and wildfires had already begun to engulf some areas of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as Cathy and her roommate quickly drove from their neighborhood.
“It was like a dream, it happened so fast... I lived on the south side of town, and the fire was coming from the North. So, I never thought it would really be a problem for me,” said Cathy.
Ending up in Calgary, Cathy first learned the fate of her neighborhood through images on news broadcasts. The television pictures showed lots of damage. Then, when she returned earlier this week, she could see with her own eyes that the stand-alone condominium that had contained all her possessions was totally gone, and she was not allowed to enter her old neighborhood. Even worse, she has no insurance to cover any portion of her loss.
Cathy, a student at the University of British Columbia, was living in Fort McMurray since 2014 because she has a co-op internship with Shell Canada as a Mine Planning Engineer. In that role she assists Shell’s work in the local oil sands fields by developing the daily plan for extraction based on the characteristics of the particular geological strata that is being mined.
Cathy is still working with Shell Canada but now in Calgary. However, she volunteered to return to the city where she lost everything during the re-entry period for residents of Fort McMurray. She spends her day in one of the eight Welcome Centres, where returning residents can stop off to interact with a different municipal and relief agencies and also register with the Red Cross and receive emergency financial benefits as well as cleanup kits, water, and after fire kits.
Often returning residents want to know what they can do to assist those who have lost everything to the wildfires. On this day Cathy, along with Maryam Dashti, another volunteer from Shell Canada, sit at a desk where people can get referrals to agencies where they can be of assistance.
“Initially I was devastated [by my loss], but this is a place of strength. Being here has really helped me learn what is important in life….I feel very fortunate to be here. There is a better tomorrow,” Cathy concluded.
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