EDMONTON â�� The Red Cross is providing an immediate payment of $50 million to evacuees of the Fort McMurray forest fire to add to emergency funds the Alberta government is providing.
CEO Conrad Sauve says each adult is to receive $600 and each child will get $300. The money is to be electronically transferred within the next two days.
"This is the most important cash transfer we have done in our history and the fastest one,'' he said Wednesday at a news conference with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
"(It's) a combination of both the ability to raise money very fast in Canada and also use electronic means to transfer money directly into the hands of those affected.''
Fire evacuees line up to receive donated clothing and necessities at an emergency relief centre in Edmonton on Tuesday. (Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images)
Everyone has unique needs and giving evacuees cash lets them decide how best to spend the money, Sauve said.
"We know already that the damage resulting from the wildfire will be in the billions and it will take years to recover. But we also know that the needs of those affected are immediate.''
"This is the most important cash transfer we have done in our history and the fastest one.''
Sauve said $67 million has been donated to the Red Cross so far and much of that will be matched by the provincial and federal governments.
Notley reminded people that the Alberta government is also providing immediate monetary assistance. Debit cards are being handed out at evacuee centres and other locations across the province.
Every adult evacuee is to receive $1,250 and each dependent $500.
Damage from the wildfires is seen in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Monday. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
"Our aim is to get help to the evacuees who need it the most as quickly as possible,'' she said. "There will be long lineups, especially in the early days of distribution, so I am asking all evacuees if you don't need emergency funding immediately, please let those in desperate need be first in line.''
The government anticipates the emergency funding will cost up to $100 million. The province is also matching donations made by Albertans to the Red Cross.
The move to provide cash directly to those effected by the evacuation was applauded by a group that had urged people to donate to local charities overshadowed by the Red Cross.
Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada, said the decision is unprecedented and welcome. Getting the money out quickly and allowing evacuees to decide how to spend it means the Red Cross won't be sitting on the money several years later, Bahen said.
"In a disaster, speed matters.''
"These direct cash transfers are proven to be the most efficient and effective way to help people who need aid,'' she said. "In a disaster, speed matters.''
Notley didn't have an update on when Fort McMurray residents may be able to go back. On Monday, after touring the city by ground, she said a schedule would be out in about two weeks.
"I understand it's hard for people not to have a definitive timeline,'' she said. ``But at the same time, I don't want to give them a definitive timeline, have them build their hopes around that ... and then discover an infrastructure deficit that we didn't previously know about that delays things by a week or two.''