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Fort Mac evacuees take refuge in Whitecourt - Whitecourt Star
WHITECOURT, AB, May 2016
Fort McMurray residents fleeing the wildfires said the experience was like a scene out of The Walking Dead, or an image straight from hell.
Vancouver natives Marbel Toledo, Tita Cool and Allie Pattie were housemates in Fort McMurray and are currently being accommodated at the Whitecourt Microtel Inn and Suites, free of charge.
On Sunday May 1, 2016 it seemed that the fire would be diverted from the city. But by Tuesday the three women joined over 80,000 residents and fled their homes.
Toledo was at work on Tuesday May 3, and she watched the conditions change rapidly.
“The entire sky was just black, and ash was coming down,” she said.
Cool had been at a work conference in Edmonton earlier in the day, and was unaware of the increasingly hazardous conditions in Fort McMurray. She was driving back home when she was told by friends to turn around.
Pattie works with Toledo at RAC Group, and was north of the Fort McMurray working in the field on Tuesday. When the situation became dire, Pattie and her coworkers were released and told to evacuate.
“It happened so suddenly,” Pattie said.
Toledo and Pattie just barely had enough time to snatch a few valuable possessions, including their pets. During the whole nightmarish ordeal, the women were in close contact with friends.
“They grabbed their babies, we grabbed our cats, and we just packed whatever we could in our cars and we left,” Toledo said.
She described the fire’s movement as strangely similar to the slow progression of lava.
“It was just slowly creeping its way down the hill and eating anything that was still alive,” Toledo said. “It was really creepy and eerie.”
The entire city was so suddenly evacuated that a trip that would normally take 45 minutes took five hours, Cool said. By 9 p.m. there was no gas left in the city.
All three women are fairly sure their home has been destroyed.
In the face of such horrendous tragedy, the women keep each other positive, and say they are blown away by the generosity and kindness they have experienced over the past few days. While they were fleeing the city, Toledo and Pattie observed people on the side of streets holding signs that offered food, water, shelter, and even diapers. A room on the main floor of the Microtel has even been dedicated to receiving the many donations Whitecourt citizens have given.
“I’ve been trying to keep it together, but as soon as I walked into that lobby I just lost it,” Toledo said.
For now the women will wait the situation out at the Microtel with their cats, but they realize that they will most likely be forced to find refuge with friends and family in Vancouver. Once Fort McMurray starts being rebuilt they plan to return, and assist in the redevelopment.
“Thank you to Whitecourt for being amazing, and to this hotel,” Cool said. “Everyone has been so amazing so far.”