Fort McMurray businesses still not fully recovered from the floods

Businesses in Fort McMurray are dealing with the economic fallout of two once-in-a-century emergencies this year.

On top of the pandemic, many are struggling to rebuild after last spring’s devastating flood. 

The natural disaster cost insurance companies $522 million and changed the lives of thousands of people. Ten months later, business owners haven’t recovered.

“You work for all your life and in a couple of days it’s all gone,” said business owner Michael Vinokurov. 

Subserious Autoworks after the flood. (Submitted by Michael Vinokurov)

Wheels and rims are most of what’s left of Vinokurov’s auto shop from before the April flood.

The Subserious Autoworks garage, which he has run for almost 30 years, was hit hard by flooding last spring. The tires and rims have survived, but not the car stereos and all the tools he had collected since 1985.

The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, which represents 450 companies, estimates 20 to 40 per cent of damaged businesses have reopened. 

“And what we’ve been hearing is — as you can imagine — reconstruction has been slow,” said Stuart McIntosh, spokesperson for the chamber. 

“As a community member you can go down Franklin Avenue — the main drag in downtown Fort McMurray — you can certainly see that there are still businesses that have not been able to reopen.”

Vinokurov had opted out of flood insurance. But with the help of the Disaster Recovery Program announced by the Alberta government in May to support small businesses and homeowners, he’s been able to operate his business out of a temporary warehouse. .

“They sent us $3,000 up front and then $15,000 on presentation of invoices. It’s a blessing,” Vinokurov said. 

But the process is slow and uncertain, he added. 

Funds on hold

Of $147 million dollars in provincial disaster relief, only 10 per cent has been paid out to businesses so far. 

Kim Hurley owns a dance school.

Overnight, she had to flee her home threatened by flooding. Her dance school, which was located in the basement of the River City Mall, was destroyed. Hurley estimates her losses at $550,000.

She was able to move her dance studio thanks to community fundraising and a $60,000 insurance payment, but she mostly gave up on government relief over a lack of communication and a fear that her claims would fail.

“Unfortunately for me, I just kind of lost hope,” Hurley said. 

On Jan. 20, Alberta Municipal Affairs said the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo had received more than 1,000 claims:

Expenses to date through the program include:

  • $14.5 million for private applicants from individuals and small businesses
  • $13.9 million in the form of emergency evacuation payments to evacuees
  • $20 million for the reconstruction of the municipality

Fort McMurray is organizing to prevent the worst from happening again.

Berms will be built in the Taiga Nova and Longboat Landing districts by October 2021 and in Waterways by October 2022.

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