Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May 11, 2016

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything, anywhere, like the wildfire eating it’s way across the northern part of the western Canadian province of Alberta. Approximately 90,000 people were evacuated from the city of Fort McMurray and its surrounding area. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed.

The videos taken by those passing through what was the Beacon Hill neighborhood of the city are surreal to watch. Streets are lined with concrete driveways leading to nowhere and ending in unrecognizable piles of charred debris. Some vehicles left parked along the street in this residential neighbourhood are nothing more than burned out shells of metal. Later videos show a line of demarcation of sorts—houses on one side of a street virtually untouched while on the other side of the street, lays complete devastation.

Families fled, most with only the clothes on their backs. To escape the conflagration, residents had to run a fiery gauntlet along Provincial highway 63—the only route south out of town—the trees and grass ablaze on both sides of the road. I can’t imagine the terror they experienced as they started out on their quest for safety. Some cars and trucks were abandoned on the side of the road, because they ran out of gas. The fire is still burning, still enormous and out of control, although it appears to be moving away from the city. The temperatures have dropped and some rain has fallen, both of which are blessings. It’s still too soon for people to be allowed back into the city of course, so for now Fort McMurray—which had been completely evacuated—resembles the abandoned set of a disaster movie.

In a news release yesterday, the fire chief reported that about 85 percent of the city was intact. While there has been no fire related deaths or serious injuries, two young people were killed in an automobile accident, as the pair were driving to flee the area. The young woman who lost her life, a ninth grade student, was the daughter of a firefighter, a man on duty battling the flames.

It really could have been much, much worse, and I guess until that fire is out, it still could be.

Eventually the time will come for people to return to Fort McMurray and then the real work will begin—and the reality will settle in for some that all they owned, all they’ve spent their lives building, is now gone.

The Canadian Red Cross has sent out an urgent appeal for donations, and people here have responded in a magnificent way. I believe it is important for everyone who can, to give something. You might not think your ten dollars or even five dollars can make a difference: but thousands of people who can only give five or ten dollars, together contribute millions. Already more than 30 million dollars have been raised, but much more is and will be needed.

The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Trudeau, has pledged to match donations dollar for dollar, which means your five dollars immediately becomes ten, and your ten, twenty.

I happen to know that Americans who are so inclined can also contribute to the Canadian Red Cross, because several of my friends south of the border have already done so. One friend reminded me that she’d been aware of Canadian donations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and she said she wanted to return the favor.

Cynics would have us believe that during apocalyptic events, humanity shows itself at it’s worst. That has never been my view. Yes, in moments of crises, there might be some people who take advantage, who steal and loot, but that’s not the most of us. It’s only some of us. Most of us, if given the opportunity, will reach out to our fellow human beings and offer a hand up. Most of us respond when asked to help, knowing that all of us are at risk of being in need. Fate is capricious and no respecter of gender, age, or environment. None of us can state with any kind of assurance that tragedy or crises will never happen to us.

Please keep the people of Fort McMurray, and the firefighters—some whom are now there from other towns and provinces—in your thoughts and prayers.

Prayers work, and are as necessary for recovery and survival as are donations.


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