A business owner from Lytton, B.C., who was among the hundreds forced to flee as the town burned to the ground last week is calling for clearer communication and more direct support from senior levels of government.
Meghan Fandrih, owner of Klowa Art Cafe, said evacuees who are spread across more than half a dozen communities in the region don’t know what to do — and that while relief is flowing, many are finding the system confusing and hard to access.
“The first thing we need is financial support. We don’t need donations of furniture and closets full of clothing for the home we’re going to rebuild. Right now we need food … we need money to buy what our family needs,” Fandrih, who is staying in Merritt, said.
Trudeau, Horgan promise to help Lytton, B.C., rebuild after wildfire
“I was given a voucher for some food and clothing to spend at Superstore, and given a bottle of water and a couple of cookies for my daughter, and that’s all the support I’ve had.”
Evacuees are stressed about food, gas and accommodations, she said, and about what the immediate next steps are.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan met and pledged support for the community.
Trudeau said he was meeting with Lytton’s mayor and the chief of the Lytton First Nation, and was speaking regularly with Horgan about “rebuilding, and first dealing with supporting those families in that community that has been so devastated.”
“Our commitment and the commitment of the federal government and other partners across the country is to make sure we can rebuild Lytton back better, as a climate-focused community,” Horgan added.
The province has encouraged all evacuees to register with emergency social services and the Red Cross for immediate supports, and to contact their insurance provider.
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Fandrih said government officials need to be taking a more direct approach.
“They need to be reaching out,” she said.
“They need to be doing clearly written bulletins — not about how they’re going to help us rebuild, we’re not ready for that right now, we’re still looking for loved ones. We need someone to reach out and say if you’re in this community go to this place at this time.”
Business owners like her, she added, need practical information, like how to prepare records of employment for her now out-of-work staff so they can collect EI — without access to her computer.
And she said people who were uninsured need information about what will happen to them.
“For example the owners at the grocery store, a family my age with two kids who are recent immigrants from Korea,” she said.
“They lost their homes, they lost their dogs, and they lost their business. Who is looking out for them?”
Both CN and CP rail have pledged funding to help support the community. CN is promising $1.5 million while CP Rail, which also runs track through Lytton, pledged $1 million.
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The money is to be distributed according to the needs of the community and the Lytton First Nation, CN said in a statement Friday.
The company is also offering electrical generators and refrigerated containers, along with groceries for evacuated residents.
On Friday, evacuees will have their first chance to return to the devastated community via a bus excursion organized by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
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