unc water polo Evacuees drive through ‘war zone’
WANDERING RIVER mass exodus involving thousands of evacuees trapped since Tuesday north of Fort McMurray has begun.
At 4:30 Friday morning, police began shepherding convoys of vehicles, 50 at a time, south through the devastated city blanketed in smoke and still threatened by a massive wildfire. Driving through the heart of the fire was the only way they could link up with Highway 63 and their route south to freedom.
was like a war zone this morning, said Bill Glynn, a tradesman who lives in Edmonton but had spent a month working in Fort McMurray when the fire hit. people (who live in Fort McMurray) are going back to an atrocity. was so eager to get out of the fire zone that he was second in line for the first convoy out. He had got in line at 2 am on Thursday morning.
He said the smoke was so thick he often lost sight of the woman driving in front of him as they crept through the abandoned town.
now and then I see her tail lights and the cops were flashing their lights and there were cops all over the place. There were times you came over the hill and you couldn see anything and just hoped the person ahead knew what they were doing. We had only gone two or three klicks and there was the fire right at the side of the road. It was coming towards us. behind him was Mohamad Mahfouz, another worker from Edmonton who had spent two weeks in the Athabasca Lodge work camp, and was eager to get home to his wife and children.
In fact, Mahfouz had been so eager to escape that he and a few others had tried to run the police roadblock on Thursday afternoon.
Convoy heading south on Hwy. 63. Shot from north side of Hospital St. A police office quickly cut off the little band of mavericks and calmly reasoned with them.
stopped me and he explained to me the situation and if I continued I could get charged. So, I said ok, calm down. But there was a lot of anger, people just wanted to get home, they were tired. Some workers had already been up their for 30 days. caught glimpses of ruined buildings as he made his way through the city but the thick smoke was a blessing of sorts, he said, shielding him from seeing some of the worst damage.
it was good thing I couldn see lots of the city because of the smoke. It was pretty much a ghost town. the police had escorted the first convoy of 50 vehicles about 35 km south of Fort McMurray, they pulled off to the side of the highway and let the evacuees continue unescorted. Several stomped on the gas pedal.
was like the start of NASCAR, said Mahfouz, laughing again. The drivers made a break for home, perhaps realizing police were too busy to have set up speed traps.
Evacuees Sarah Babstock and Jason Barber were in remarkably high spirits, too, considering they don know if their home in Fort McMurray is still standing.
They were just happy to get out of the area and grateful their family two daughters, a grandson, a son in law and dog was safe.
They had been trapped in the Firebag work camp 100 kilometres north of the city after fleeing on Tuesday with the clothes on their backs and little more. actually packed what we could. Two Walmart bags is what we got, said Babstock.
Despite reports that work camps had been running out of food and water, Babstock and Barber said they had no problems. were really nice, they were good to us up there. We had everything we needed. We were of course stressed over everything, hearing people talking, wondering what was going on, said Babstock.
was awful, it was scary. It was smoky, we came through with clothes over our mouths so we could breathe, said Babstock.
They don know what they do now except rely on the kindness of friends.
just going to take it day by day, said Barber, who is a mechanic. head to Leduc. Friends have got a cabin, we going to stay there for a couple of days and relax and then head to Calgary and find out what going with my work. are stressed about the present and worried about the future but most of all happy to have survived the fire.
Babstock face broke into a smile when she remembered this morning convoy breaking free of the city and the fire and seeing the open highway ahead.