Via The Guardian: The return to Fort McMurray: residents rebuild lives in city scarred by wildfire. Excerpt:
For most in Fort McMurray, life has yet to return to normal. Some residents continue to live in limbo, waiting on insurance claims or permits to rebuild that have been caught up in red tape. Others have left town, gambling on the relative ease of rebuilding their lives elsewhere.
Two residential areas – home to most of the burned structures – remain barricaded. For those who lost their homes, the pace of rebuilding has been excruciatingly slow; in mid-August, the city issued its first rebuilding permit. The bulk of the new construction is expected to begin next spring.
“It seems when the flames went away, the world stopped watching. Many people think life is back to normal in Fort McMurray,” said resident Tamara Wolfe. “But it really isn’t.”
Soon after she evacuated the city, she found out that all that was left of her home was the chain link fence that once encircled it.
Wolfe hasn’t been able to return to the city. Instead, she spends most nights tossing and turning, reliving the fear that gripped her during the evacuation. The sound of sirens or the faintest whiff of smoke sends her into a panic. On the heels of the evacuation, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety. “I really honestly miss it there, but I’m afraid to return,” she said.
More than 20,000 people – almost a quarter of the town’s population – have sought mental health services since the fire, said Sandra Corbett, who heads the services for the region. Additional staff have been brought in to cope with the demand, allowing the region to extend the availability of services to residents.
“We’re hoping it’s enough,” she said. The focus right now is on building a response for the next year. “Then we’re looking at three to five years because we know it takes that long for a full recovery to happen.”
The effort is challenged by the fact that Corbett and many others on her team are also residents of Fort McMurray, meaning they’re grappling with many of the same issues facing others in the city. “Some of them, the people I work with, have lost their homes,” said Corbett.