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Home Canadian News Volunteers race to protect Fort McMurray hospital with thousands of sandbags

Volunteers race to protect Fort McMurray hospital with thousands of sandbags

Volunteers in Fort McMurray filled thousands of sandbags this week to protect the region’s only hospital from flooding.

Dennis Nephin, who runs the event and marketing company Brand Connect, jumped into action after dropping off his girlfriend at work early Monday morning.

He noticed water had flowed all the way up to Franklin Avenue and was approaching the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, where his girlfriend works.

He called friends Sean Peterson and Rob Thompson, who own the construction and landscaping company Creative Industries, secured a sand supplier and put out a call for volunteers on Facebook.

By early afternoon, Nephin was co-ordinating more than 100 people in three locations.

Because of social distancing rules, volunteers could not form an assembly line to pack and move the sandbags most efficiently.

“You had to actually pick up your own bag, walk it 50 feet and put it down, because we were trying to limit the contact,” he said Tuesday in an interview with CBC’s Radio Active.

We’ll speak with one man who helped organize a huge sandbagging operation to protect Fort McMurray’s only hospital. NaN:NaN

The team, working until the early hours on Tuesday morning, filled about 8,000 sandbags and delivered approximately 6,000 of them to the hospital and nearby Heritage Village.

The water rose quickly on Monday afternoon, Nephin said, “creeping up” the three-tiered parking lot on the hill toward the hospital. 

Volunteers set up the sandbag barriers across the first and second tiers of the parking lot.

When Nephin checked the site on Tuesday morning, the water was halfway across the second parking lot but did not appear to be moving forward.

The hospital remains the only building in downtown Fort McMurray that is not under an evacuation order.

Volunteers constructed a barrier of sandbags around Fort McMurray’s only hospital to prevent it from flooding. (Dennis Nephin)

Scott Davis, director of emergency management for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said Tuesday in a video update that hospital leaders are communicating frequently with the municipality. At this point, the hospital is in good shape, he said.

He said significant resources continue to be dedicated to sandbagging the area around the hospital.

Rob Thompson of Creative Industries, who also spent Monday volunteering, said it was amazing to watch as trucks full of sand came and went and residents got down on their hands and knees to help out.

This time of year, just days from the anniversary of the 2016 wildfire, is hard on people, he said, especially those who lost their homes.

About 2,000 of the sandbags the group prepared have yet to be used.

“Hopefully they’re not needed,” Thompson said.

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