Fort McMurray at 'mercy of Mother Nature' as community battles flooding

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – The mayor of Fort McMurray says workers and volunteers are sandbagging the city’s Heritage Park and working on dyking to protect the local high school and college.

Melissa Blake says while the public is being urged to stay away from riverbanks and streams, there is no direct threat to public safety and attention is being turned to the protection of property.

Heritage Park is operated by the Fort McMurray Historical Society and contains 17 historic buildings, including a trapper’s cabin, a Catholic mission and an Anglican church.

A state of emergency and a boil-water order for the area were declared Tuesday due to flooding of the Hangingstone River and concern over the Clearwater River and its tributaries.

About 150 people have been moved from a city trailer park and residents in 275 homes are on evacuation alert.

Brad Grainger with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says workers are trying to fix a main gas line that ruptured when water eroded the ground covering it.

He says the community is at “the mercy of Mother Nature,” since more rain is forecast for the rest of the week.

Mounties say they are going door-to-door in the trailer park to make sure that people comply with the mandatory evacuation order.

“Areas that have been identified as evacuation zones, especially those classified as mandatory, are not safe at this time,” RCMP said in a news release.

“Anyone who remains in those areas will likely find themselves with minimal resources, if any, including a lack of power and running water, as well as the likelihood that RCMP and other emergency services will not be in a position to respond to calls in a timely manner.”

So far, the flooding has had little impact on oilsands operations in the Fort McMurray, Alta., region.

It’s business as usual at Syncrude Canada’s (TSX:SU) (TSX:COS) massive mining operations, which is well to the north of where the flooding is taking place, said spokesman Will Gibson.

Syncrude has offered its own emergency response resources to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, should they be needed, he added.

“Our employees, most of them live in this community, so some of them may have been impacted and our thoughts are with them,” said Gibson.

Gibson, who has lived in Fort McMurray for nine years, said he’s never seen the Hangingstone River so high.

Aside from commutes to and from site taking a bit longer as a result of the rain, Imperial Oil’s (TSX:IMO) newly-opened Kearl mine, further north than Syncrude, is also operating normally, said spokesman Pius Rolheiser.

Construction on Husky Energy’s (TSX:HSE) Sunrise project hasn’t been affected by the flooding, but spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said the company is keeping an eye on the situation.