UPDATE 9-Officials encouraged by how much of Canada city spared by wildfire

Mon May 9, 2016 8:11pm EDT
 
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(Add Shell restarting Albian oil sands project, Imperial Oil shutting down Kearl project)

By Rod Nickel

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta May 9 (Reuters) - Canadian officials who got their first glimpse on Monday of the oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurray since a wildfire erupted said they were encouraged by how much of it escaped destruction, estimating almost 90 percent of its buildings were saved.

But a tour of the fire-ravaged city also revealed scenes of utter devastation, with blocks of homes reduced to blackened foundations, front steps and metal barbecues.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said 2,400 structures had burned within the city while almost 25,000 were saved.

The fire that has ravaged some 204,000 hectares (504,000 acres) of the western Canadian province moved far enough from the evacuated town of 88,000 people to allow an official delegation led by the Notley to visit.

"We were really encouraged today to see the extent of residential communities that were saved," Notley said. "That of course doesn't mean there aren't going to be some really heartbreaking images for some people to see when they come back."

Reporters on the tour viewed the charred rubble of the community's Beacon Hill neighborhood, where some 80 percent of the homes had been burned to the ground and the wreckage of blackened and melted cars remained on roads.

Notley said it was not safe for residents to enter the city unescorted, with parts still smoldering and large areas without power, water and gas. She said repair crews will have weeks of work ahead of them.   Continued...