More than 80,000 evacuees from a Canadian town ravaged by wildfire are to start receiving direct financial assistance from the Alberta government and the Canadian Red Cross.
Canadian Red Cross chief executive Conrad Sauve said each adult evacuated from the oil sands town of Fort McMurray will receive $600 and each child will get $300.
He described the move as the most important and fastest direct cash transfer in the organisation’s history. In total it amounts to $50m .
The funds are in addition to the $1,250 per adult and $500 per dependent that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said will be available starting on Wednesday.
Ms Notley asked those who do not need emergency funding to let those who do line up first for the debit cards. The newly announced Red Cross payments will also start on Wednesday and will be via electronic transfers.
Mr Sauve said: “We already know that the damage resulting from the wildfires will be in the billions and it will take years to recover, but also know that the needs of those affected are immediate.”
Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen said the wildfire is outside the city, and moving south. He said residents cannot come back until it is safe and workers have checked power and water supplies.
The fire burned about 2,400 homes and buildings but 90% of the city was saved.
Ms Notley has warned that police will turn people away if they try to enter before the city is reopened.
She said she will meet with her cabinet on Thursday to discuss when some residents can return but repeated her vow to get information to people within two weeks of last Monday.
About $67m has been donated to the Red Cross so far and both the provincial and federal governments have said they will match what is given to the Red Cross.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will visit Fort McMurray on Friday, announced he has created an ad-hoc cabinet committee to co-ordinate federal recovery and rebuilding efforts.