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Alberta Trudeau offers ‘total support’ to Fort McMurray residents

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses members of caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Fort McMurray fire: Here's how you can help, and receive help.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the residents of Fort McMurray that Ottawa will "stand by you now and when it is time to rebuild," as military aircraft and emergency supplies were dispatched to help the evacuees and fight the raging wildfires.

"We are responding to the province of Alberta's request to the provision of air assets in support of evacuations, firefighters and delivery of essential aid," he told the House of Commons on Wednesday. "The Canadian Armed Forces are deploying search-and-rescue helicopters and a Hercules aircraft is now prepositioned in Cold Lake, with other aircraft on standby in Edmonton and Trenton."

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Mr. Trudeau urged Canadians who want to help residents of Fort McMurray to dig into their pockets and donate to the Canadian Red Cross, which is ready to offer emergency resources such as blankets, cots and personal-hygiene kits.

He said he's spoken to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to offer the federal Liberal government's "total support" for anything that the province needs to assist fleeing residents and to stop the massive fire that threatens the city of 80,000 residents.

"For those who have been affected, this fire is absolutely devastating. It is a loss of a scale that is hard for any of us to imagine," Mr. Trudeau said at an earlier news conference. "As Prime Minister, I want you to know our government and all Canadians will stand by you now and when it is time to rebuild."

Brigadier-General Wayne Eyre, who commands military operations in Western Canada, said four military Griffon helicopters have been deployed to help in the local evacuation, deliver emergency supplies and fly firefighters to isolated locations. Federal satellites are also being used to track the fire.

A C-130 Hercules is on standby in Cold Lake and a giant C-17 Hercules is ready to be sent from Trenton, Ont., at a moment's notice. The two aircraft are capable of landing in remote locations.

Part of the logistical challenge is to make sure they can supply food, water, cots and blankets to the tens of thousands of residents who have fled the fire.

The government operations centre, run out of the Department of Public Safety, is co-ordinating the national effort to help Alberta cope with the worst natural disaster in its history.

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"Health Canada is stockpiling living supplies, cots, blankets and that sort of thing, working in close collaboration with the Red Cross," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. "The good news – if there is good news out of this tragic situation – is obviously so far, there do not appear to be any fatalities or indeed any serious injuries."

Mr. Goodale said federal officials are now working on estimating the long-term cost of rebuilding from the fire. "We need to be able to assure the province of Alberta, and the people of Fort McMurray specifically, that the government of Canada will be there – not just today, but every day to make sure the response is fulsome and adequate to restore their lives."

Mr. Trudeau said he has been receiving calls from people across the country wanting to help the community's residents. "If you know anyone or have any friends or families who have been evacuated from Fort McMurray, make sure they are okay. Talk to them directly and ask what you can do to help them," he said.

In a statement, the Queen said she and Prince Philip were "shocked and saddened" by the tragedy. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected, and we send our heartfelt thanks to the firefighters and the other emergency workers."

Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the federal Conservatives who is also an Alberta MP, said Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Goodale briefed her on the situation early Wednesday and offered a similar briefing to any other MPs with ridings in the area.

"There's been many homes lost, including some friends of mine," Ms. Ambrose told reporters after the Conservatives' weekly caucus meeting. Like Mr. Trudeau, she urged Canadians to donate to the Red Cross if they want to help those who have been displaced. "As someone who is from Northern Alberta," she said, "obviously another thing to do is open your home. There's 80,000 people without a home to go back to at this point and need to be safely moved out of the region."

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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he is shocked by the images coming out of Fort McMurray. "First and foremost, we are reassured that the Canadian government is going to do everything that it can to help the Alberta government, which, of course, was already doing everything possible," Mr. Mulcair said.

"The No. 1 priority is to make sure that people are safe. But the images make it quite clear that there's going to be a need for a lot of help going forward."

Elizabeth May, the Green Party Leader, linked the fire to climate change. The frequency and severity of wildfires have been increasing for the past few decades, and climate scientists have warned there will be more blazes as greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause droughts.

Mr. Trudeau said it was inappropriate for Ms. May to try to make a "political argument out of one particular disaster," noting that "there have always been fires, there have always been floods, and pointing to any one incident and saying this is because of that is neither helpful or entirely accurate."

Mr. Mulcair also would not be drawn into a discussion of climate change. "Our only thoughts today are for the people in those communities," he said. "It's not the time to start laying blame."

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