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Rush on pillows at Canada evacuation center
By Michel COMTE
Edmonton, Canada (AFP) May 11, 2016

There was a rush on pillows at Canada's largest fire evacuation center Tuesday as many who fled wildfires in Alberta province's oil region looked forward to their first good sleep in days.

It will be at least two weeks before Fort McMurray residents can return home, but the damage now appears to be less than anticipated with 90 percent of structures still standing.

And several of the evacuees told AFP they feel they can finally rest easier.

Officials at the Northlands Exposition Center in Edmonton, which was converted into a shelter, said hundreds of donated pillows had been handed out throughout the day.

The 48,000-square-meter (522,000-square-foot) complex is one of 13 emergency centers across the province housing an estimated 7,000 evacuees and providing supplies to tens of thousands living in hotels or at campsites.

"I'm happy I got a pillow," said Samantha James. She has been staying at her niece's vacant student apartment in Edmonton since the evacuation of Fort McMurray a week ago.

She learned her home was untouched by the fires, and so the worst she expects upon returning to Fort McMurray is a bunch of dead house plants.

As she spoke, a man walked past, struggling to carry half a dozen pillows to his truck, where his wife and three kids were waiting.

The man, who chose not to give his name, said he found a place to stay with friends -- a room.

"We're just trying to keep safe and make ourselves as comfortable as possible," he said.

Judy Ramsay, who was taken in by strangers, stopped here to pick up pillows her herself, her husband and her 11-year-old daughter.

"It never even occurred to me (at first), but I thought if I could have a little bit more comfort and sleep a little better," she said.

- 'Back to a normal life' -

At the end of a hectic week settling into a basement apartment in Edmonton that would allow them to keep their nine-year-old bulldog, Amanda and Don Prophet also came for pillows.

"The very little money that we have (right now), every little bit helps," said Don.

The couple had packed a bag in anticipation of the evacuation order.

But they now realize they packed too lightly.

"Not enough (womens) shoes," Don quipped.

They had stuffed into their car "things that meant the most to us," including family photos, a mixed tape she made for him, a scrapbook of their vacations together and a wooden duck carved by Don's father.

There was also a heart pendant given to Amanda by her mother inscribed with the words: "Times can be tough but you'll get through it."

They have been busy all week filing insurance claims and late tax returns, taking their dog to a veterinarian, "trying to find our way in this city, it's huge compared to Fort McMurray."

Upon learning they may be able to return home soon, they said they might take in a movie as they push for normality.

But the couple remains anxious.

"It will be hard to get back to a normal life, our normal routines, because there's nothing further from normal what we're doing right now," Don said.

"We love our town and we just want to get back to it."

"But it's overwhelming thinking what our next move is going to be, insurance-wise, living-wise, also our work," he said.

"We don't know if have jobs to go back to. We don't know if we have a house. It's touch and go. We're really in limbo right now."

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Previous Report
Tensions simmer at Canada fire evacuee centers
Lac La Biche, Canada (AFP) May 10, 2016
Frustration mounted Monday among the Fort McMurray evacuees, crammed into shelters after a traumatic flight from the Canadian oil city, as some turned to criticizing the official handling of the wildfires ravaging the region. At the closest evacuation center to the fires, in Lac La Biche, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of Fort McMurray, security was doubled overnight and entry has be ... read more

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