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Fort McMurray moms celebrate 'bittersweet' Mother's Day

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A Fort McMurray evacuee looks through clothing donations at an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Canada, on May 7, 2016.

[FORT MCMURRAY, CANADA] A big burly man jumps up from his seat at a Canadian fire evacuation center Sunday muttering a profanity, and rushes to a firefighter who is distributing flowers for Mother's Day.

He asks in a whisper if he might have a few daisies to give to his wife.

Several children also mob the firefighter, Laura Pereira, and ask the same.

She and her team took a short break from battling massive wildfires that forced the evacuation of 100,000 people from the oil city of Fort McMurray to hand out flowers they hastily picked up from a local florist.

"It's Mother's Day and they need to be honored no matter what," Ms Pereira told AFP.

"I know today is a bittersweet Mother's Day for many Alberta moms, as you're away from your homes," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a Twitter message.

"All of you are incredibly strong and I hope you're able to find a small moment for yourself today. My thoughts are with you," she said.

Events were planned at evacuation centers across the province to celebrate Mother's Day.

In Lac La Biche, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of Fort McMurray, small gestures such as the handing out of flowers and the serving of colorfully glazed cupcakes put ear-to-ear smiles on otherwise weary faces.

In the town's high school gymnasium-turned cafeteria for evacuees, Simonette Agarin helps her eight-year-old son Sean open the cap on a water bottle while his younger sibling devours a plate of pancakes, never looking up.

"This Mother's Day has been very different, very difficult because we're not home," Ms Agarin said.

Sean said he had planned to give her a card but had to leave it at school during the rushed evacuation of Fort McMurray.

A volunteer overhears and tells him they'll dig up some craft materials so he and other children can make new cards. But Sean's attention has already shifted to another boy rolling a toy truck on the floor nearby.

At another table across the room, Darren and Colleen Todd try in earnest to get two-year-old Chase to eat his "yummy" bacon, while 11-month-old Taylor sucks on a piece of fruit.

"Life hasn't changed much from the regular day-to-day challenges of raising children back in Fort McMurray," Darren tells AFP with a chuckle, as Chase slips off his chair and crawls under the table.

"Chase just finished potty training, but now he's got diarrhoea," he says with a long sigh.

"To him, this is just an adventure," Darren adds. The Todd family brought their camping trailer in the evacuation, which provides them a modicum of comfort and privacy.

Others have had to share relatively cramped quarters at the province's makeshift evacuation centers.

Christy Klima arrived in Lac La Biche late Saturday with a group that was escorted by police from north of Fort McMurray where they had been trapped since the fires erupted nearly a week ago.

Several moms in her group described a harrowing drive through the charred city, grateful that their children slept through the ordeal.

Others worried aloud that their children will have nightmares.

"I haven't been thinking about Mother's Day," Ms Klima said, her shoulders crushed by the weight of losing her house in the fires and an uncertain future.

"I haven't heard from my two sons yet," she said. They are aged 20 and 21.

Her father was hospitalized with sudden, sharp chest pains Wednesday in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan where he lives.

"I thought I'd been doing pretty good until my meltdown yesterday," Ms Klima confided, tightly gripping a yellow flower.

"Everything just all hit me at once."

Despite her own serious woes, her mind wanders to the plight of others.

"There're still a lot of children up north, the economy has been so bad over the past year (due to lower oil prices), and now the fires. I'm worried for young families."

AFP