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A flooded Rona store and lumber yard in downtown Fort McMurray, on April 28, 2020.

Greg Halinda/The Canadian Press

A recovery plan is in place in Northern Alberta after an ice jam on the Athabasca River led to major flooding and forced 13,000 people from their homes in Fort McMurray.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said in a social-media post that the plan will guide cleanup and re-entry for residents downtown.

In a community update Friday, officials said the ice jam was continuing to shrink. It was down to about 9.5 kilometres from 25 kilometres earlier in the week.

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Water levels have also dropped by more than four metres on the Athabasca River and about 1.5 metres on the Clearwater River.

“Access to the Lower Townsite, Waterways and Draper remains closed as water levels are fluctuating and the situation can change quickly,” the update posted on social media said. “The risk in these areas remains high as water can become electrically charged or ice could shift, causing water and debris to begin moving very quickly.”

The update said damaged infrastructure could also pose a safety risk.

The plan is to open businesses before allowing residents back to the community. Officials said Thursday it would be at least a week before evacuees could return.

Some businesses and services deemed essential include government offices, grocery stores, hardware stores, gas stations, hotels and pharmacies.

At least 1,230 structures have been damaged, the mayor said this week.

Farther north, 450 residents from Fort Vermilion and Tallcree First Nation were also forced to evacuate their homes, owing to another ice jam on the Peace River.

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The threat of additional flooding has passed, but drone footage taken Thursday shows water and large ice chunks throughout the area.

There’s no timeline for residents to return, but the county took some evacuees on a bus tour Thursday to see the damage.

Also Thursday, Environment Minister Jason Nixon said ice jams on the Peace River had released near Fort Vermilion and moved downstream. The ice jammed again at Garden River, forcing about 800 people to leave.

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