Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Life as a Fort Mac Evacuee : After the Evacuation

Pin It When I left off our story yesterday we had just arrived safe and sound in Edmonton.

But before we were in Edmonton we spent a couple days at the Wapasu Creek Lodge oilsands camp.

You'll notice that Google maps suggests it should take a little less than 2 hours to get to the camp. It took us 12 hours because of the insane traffic.

I can't fully express just how wonderful the camps were to the evacuees. The workers were welcoming and so very gracious to us.

It was 4am when we arrived and we were greeted by incredibly kind oil sands workers who gave us a place to stay.

One teeny tiny part of the camp.

The camp was set up sort of dorm-room style with each room having a single bed, a desk, a dresser, a TV, a closet and a sink. There was a shared bathroom in between two rooms. Since there are 5 of us they gave us 4 rooms. Each of my sons had their own room, Doug had his own room, and Olivia and I (and Shadow the cat) shared a room.

The camp "dorms".

We had basically nothing with us but the lovely lady at the front desk gave us some soap and we were able to buy toothbrushes at the camp shop.

We gathered up gravel from the parking lot and stuck it in a make-shift litter box for Shadow and brought him some people food to eat (which he hated of course).

Shadow looking at us all from on high ... with disdain. 

Shadow was very not impressed with the lack of cat-specific food but he survived.

There was no internet in the rooms so we were very thankful for the TVs so the kids had something to keep them occupied. I think they went through serious internet withdrawal during the days we were there!

The camp provided us with bedding and free meals so we had everything we needed.

The meals were served cafeteria style and were very tasty. The kitchen workers were a delightful bunch of people - so accommodating and friendly.

As great as the camp was there was a lot we couldn't get simply because of its location. There are only so many days you can go without a hair brush and clean underwear before everyone starts getting grumpy.

We were so very thankful that the camp offered free flights south and we took advantage of a flight to Edmonton as soon as we could.

The airline graciously allowed us all to take our pets on the plane - inside the cabin - with us since most of us didn't have pet carriers with us.

Shadow basically hated the flight and he was especially unimpressed with the large dogs all over the place but he huddled down in my computer bag and sat on my lap without too much complaint.

The kids were absolutely thrilled to be on a plane for the first time that any of them remembered. The boys had been on a flight when they were babies but Olivia had never flown before. They were very enthusiastic about the whole experience.
The line up of people giving donations to the evacuees.

When we arrived in Edmonton we were greeted by a line up of people giving out food and supplies and I was so very excited to get a hairbrush, deodorant and cat food!

We spent the weekend with my wonderful cousin and his family  - they fed us and took care of us and made life feel ok again.  A blogger friend of mine came and took Shadow to her home to cat-sit for us and she brought some donations to us as well. So thankful.

After that we moved in to a "vacation" home with my best friend and her family (also from Fort McMurray). We visited the donations sites and got a lot of food and toiletries and some clothes. We shopped for what we couldn't get. And after a few days we started to feel a bit more settled.

Our rental here runs out at the end of May and then we will move on to another rental place for the month of June. We will continue to find rental places until we can go home. We have no idea when that will be of course.

The kids are ok - it is a very emotional experience all around and when you have special needs kids it makes for some interesting days. The adults are doing as well as can be expected amidst the chaos.

I am incredibly thankful that we are living with my best friend and her family - it is much needed support in a very stressful time.

We are so very grateful for all the support we've received from our friends and family and even perfect strangers. This situation could have been so much worse and everyone has worked so hard to make it as easy as possible.

Now all we need is for the fire to stop. That would really help a lot.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My Life as a Fort McMurray Wildfire Evacuee

Pin It Two weeks ago we were evacuated from our home because of a massive wild fire. This is my story.
The view from my front window, May 2nd.

It all began on Monday, May 2nd. We woke up that morning and the sky was absolutely filled with smoke. Doug headed off to work and I went to wake up the kids for school. I quickly realized that everyone felt pretty crappy with sore throats and coughs from the smoke so I decided to keep the kids home from school and hope for clearer skies the next day.

The sky looked scary but none of us were scared. There wasn't any sort of panic or even anxiety. Since the fire was on the other side of the river I wasn't too concerned about it - after all, what kind of fire can jump a huge river?

We woke up on Tuesday morning the sky was clear and it seemed like a perfectly normal Spring day. The kids woke up happy and I got them off to school with minimal fuss. I came home and had some tea and started cleaning the house. All morning it seemed like just another day. 

Around 1pm I noticed that the sky didn't look so clear anymore. I checked online to see what was going on and discovered that things were not going well with the fire and several neighbourhoods were being evacuated. 

We were safe though. Everything was fine. I was not yet worried.

And then I looked outside again. 
I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me so I walked outside onto my front step and found my neighbour staring up into the sky watching the smoke billow in huge waves over top of the houses across the street from us. 

We both stood there stunned and joked about how it was probably time to get out of town.

As soon as I got back in the house I discovered that our neighbourhood had been put on "voluntary" evacuation and then I found out that both of the kids' schools were in the process of being evacuated.

At that moment all I could think was "I have to get to the kids. Now."

I hoped that I would be able to return to our house after I picked up the kids so I could pack up some stuff to take with us but as I rushed out the door I grabbed the laptops, our medications and the cat. Just in case.

I rushed to Olivia's school and signed her out. She was in tears - as were several kids that I could see - and she shoved a bunch of stuff from her locker into her bag and we rushed out to head over to the boys' school. 

It was at that point that I knew this was a really big deal. 

The streets were absolutely packed with traffic. A drive that normally takes me 15 minutes at the most took well over an hour. During the drive to the boys' school our neighbourhood was put on mandatory evacuation so I knew I wouldn't be able to go back to our house.

While I was stuck in traffic I got ahold of my best friend Amanda and offered to pick up her son at the same time as my boys.

At this point Aiden had begun to text me asking me to hurry up and get there and pick him up because he was freaked out and didn't feel well and didn't like the look of the smoke.  

I finally got to the school and stood in the massive line up of parents waiting to sign out their kids.  I managed to sign the boys out I rushed them all to the van. 

The plan at that point was to head over to Amanda's house since their neighbourhood was still ok. The kids were understandably freaked out not only by the smoke in the sky but by the crazy amount of traffic. 

We quickly discovered that Amanda's neighbourhood was also being evacuated so we planned to meet at her parents' house to reunite her son with his parents.

It took an hour and a half to drive the 10 minutes to their house. Some people were starting to go a little bit nuts driving on the sidewalks and on the medians and other dreadfully un-safe things. 

But MOST people were very gracious and only a few people looked truly panicked. 

The line up at the gas station was ridiculous and I was thankful that our tank was 3/4 full. 

We arrived at the grandparents house and quickly dropped off the extra kid and got back on the road. 

Doug had been working North of town that day and was doing his very best to get back to town to meet up with us. He left his work truck in a parking lot somewhere and started walking down the side of the highway so we could find him.

It took... hours to get to the highway. Doug was able to walk several kms by the time we had driving the normally-5-minute drive. 

Because my husband is a super-dad while he was walking he was also giving me directions to where he was, reminding me to stay calm, and then talking to each of the kids individually attempting to calm them down and reassure them that all was well despite the smoke and traffic and chaos. 

I can't even begin to describe my relief when I saw Doug on the side of the road. I was so incredibly thankful that we were all safe and all together. I was shaking with relief. 

Once Doug was settled in the driver's seat I told him about what had gone on that day and what I managed to take with me.

The conversation went something like this:

Me:... so I grabbed the laptops, the meds and the cat and left.
Did you happen to grab any water bottles? or food?
Me: ... no... I had hoped to go back....
Doug: did you grab any clothes?
Doug: meh, clothes are over-rated anyway. Did you grab the power cords?
Me: ... no...
Doug: that's ok we can always get more. How about the hard drive of pictures? 
Me: ... no ... 
Doug: passports? important papers? the file folder with all the kids' assessments and stuff?
Me: ... no...
Doug: we are together and safe and that is all that matters, you did the best you could in a really crazy situation. I love you.
Me: *half crying half laughing* I love you too.

I have a very good husband.

We drove North because that was the only option open to us. The road South was closed at the time. We were listening to the radio to find out where to go and watching all the people stopped on the sides of the highway to entertain ourselves. 

The kids seemed to go back and forth between complete panic and despair to a sort of subdued calm. Each of them broke down fully at least once and Doug and I just kept reassuring them that we were together, we were safe, and that was all that mattered.

When I say we were in bumper to bumper traffic I am not exaggerating. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. 
After about 6 hours on the road we started to get worried about our fuel situation. There are very very few gas stations on the Northern Road to Nowhere so we stopped at Fort McKay and waiting in line there for a couple of hours for gas and snacks since the kids hadn't eaten since lunch. 

We carried on and finally arrived at one of the oilsands camps at about 4am - 14 hours after I had first left home. 

The camp people were wonderful. They gave us a place to stay and we were finally able to sleep.

Incidentally our cat, Shadow, did NOT appreciate the long hours in the van. In protest he peed on the floor. Poor cat. 

It is amazing how much you use every day without even thinking about it ... but when you don't have it anymore it suddenly becomes very noticeable. Things like toothbrushes and hairbrushes and clean underwear and cat food and cat litter and the kids' favourite blankets and the internet and the list goes on and on.

We spent the rest of that night and the following day and night at the camp.

At the evacuee meeting they announced that they would be offering flights out for free and we jumped at that plan. As great as the camp was to us I really really wanted clean underwear and my cat really really wanted actual cat food instead of the table food we kept trying to feed him.

So on May 5th we took one bus from the camp we were staying at to another camp where we went through their version of airport security. I had the cat in my laptop bag as a make-shift cat carrier since he wasn't too thrilled with the whole scenario.

From the airport security camp we took another bus to a different camp where the airstrip was. Then we flew to Edmonton.

My kids were pretty excited to fly on a plane for the first time they remembered. I found it fascinating to have a plane full of people and cats and dogs and such all over the place. Our poor flight attendant had a dog-phobia and she didn't look to thrilled.

The flight people were wonderful. So very gracious and kind. 

We arrived in Edmonton to be greeted by an entire line up of people giving stuff away. They handed us pizza and water bottles and toiletries and cat food and cat litter. It was amazing.

My wonderful cousin, along with his family, welcomed us into their home and took care of us as only family can. 

To be continued....

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