Like many Canadians I saw shocking images in the news and on social media of the Alberta wildfires; columns of fire burning along the highway as a steady stream of cars drove past. Many people escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs, unsure of what they would find when they returned. For many of us, it's hard to imagine being in that situation.
I am now on my third visit to Fort McMurray since the fires began. When I arrived the first time I was taken aback by the devastation. Rows of charred trees, businesses and entire blocks of homes destroyed. The smell of smoke still lingered in the air.
On my second visit I noticed a marked improvement; people were starting to return home and settling in to rebuild their lives in the communities they knew and loved.
This time, I see full parking lots, line-ups at grocery stores, people going about their lives like they did before the fires. Each time I have returned, I am truly moved by the resiliency of the residents of Fort McMurray -- their commitment to this community, and to one another.
Together, Canadians demonstrated what we are capable of when we come together to support each other when we need it most.
Although it is beginning to feel more like business as usual here, make no mistake that the road to recovery will be long. The Canadian Red Cross will be on the ground to support the residents of Fort McMurray in the years to come. Thanks to the incredible generosity of Canadians, this week we announced the total fundraising amount of $299 million to date. This generosity was mirrored by both the federal and Alberta governments, who matched individual donations.
The outpouring of support from one million Canadians across the country has helped the people of Fort McMurray through a very trying situation. Because of you, we were there in the immediate aftermath providing essentials like food, shelter and clothing. Because of you, within the first three months alone we were able to provide $84.4 million in direct cash assistance to people who had to flee their homes within minutes. Because of you, hundreds of our volunteers were able to provide comfort and care to those who lost everything.
My experience with the Canadian Red Cross has taught me that disasters affect people in different ways, and every personal situation is unique. During my visits I have had the opportunity to meet many of these displaced residents and learn about their struggles as they returned home.
I met children playing as their parents registered at welcome centres. I met newcomers to Canada who were returning to their new home with hope in their eyes and a smile on their face, despite everything. I also met local business owners, like Maxine and Jeff, owners of Chez Max Jamaican Cuisine.
Over a delicious lunch of their jerk chicken pizza, they told me about how they evacuated the area along with their friends and neighbours, first stopping to collect all of the food in their restaurant and distributing it to hard-working first responders on their way out of town. Maxine and Jeff were among the first to return home to their community, wanting to be open for people returning to Fort McMurray looking for a good meal.
They spoke of how fortunate they felt, returning to find their home and business still intact. They were so happy to be home, and said how grateful they felt for the hard work of so many who assisted with the evacuation and re-entry, near and far.
It is always incredible to hear these stories of gratitude from the people of Fort McMurray -- people who were displaced from their homes for a month, people who couldn't work, people who lost everything.
The funds raised to aid in the Alberta fires recovery will continue to provide support to these individuals and families in the months and years to come. We will continue to work closely with all levels of government, local community leaders and other organizations to ensure funds are used efficiently, and to make this difficult road to recovery as painless as possible for this resilient city.
Together, Canadians demonstrated what we are capable of when we come together to support each other when we need it most. Thank you, Canada, for showing your humanity. To the people of Fort McMurray, we are all here for you.
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