Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MANFF still in charge of aid

Swamped Red Cross yet to replace group

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Last month, the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters stepped away from flood evacuee assistance at the same time provincial and federal governments announced the Canadian Red Cross would replace them.

This month, MANFF is still in charge.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, is grappling with huge disasters from the Alberta flood to a runaway train that turned Lac-M©gantic, Que., into a deadly inferno. It is also doing its best to run an assessment of the needs of 2,000 evacuees who have been out of their homes for two years in Manitoba.

A Red Cross spokeswoman said this week the international aid agency still doesn't know when it will take over from MANFF.

"We are trying to move forward in the most expeditious manner," she said in an email from Ottawa.

Federal officials indicated this week the transfer won't happen overnight but that doesn't mean there isn't progress behind the scenes.

"We realize individuals are facing challenges due to the ongoing evacuations and we are ensuring that eligible evacuees will continue to have their accommodations paid for and will continue to receive (meal) per diems without disruption. The federal government is working with all parties to ensure a smooth transfer," a spokeswoman said in an email from the aboriginal affairs minister's office in Ottawa.

MANFF, an agency that trains firefighters and runs emergency evacuations on Manitoba First Nations, was never set up to handle evacuation services to thousands of people over the course of two years. It remains in charge of food and shelter for nearly 2,000 flood evacuees.

At Misty Lake Lodge, one evacuee said it's hard not knowing when the Red Cross will take over from MANFF. For Bertha Travers, that day can't come soon enough.

Misty Lake Lodge is the Gimli-area resort that's been at the centre of a controversy with MANFF over a $3-million debt from unpaid hotel bills plus claims senior staff used flood evacuee money to take pleasure trips for themselves.

For evacuees, there are complaints MANFF workers are routinely rude to them, sometimes intimidating and even drunk on the job.

Travers, 65, said three Red Cross representatives met last week with evacuees who gave them a first-hand account. The Red Cross is compiling an assessment, with recommendations, to advise the federal government on the best way forward for evacuee assistance. Travers said one MANFF worker paced the floor the entire time the Red Cross conducted its interviews

"There was a MANFF worker walking back and forth in front of the door. We were there for three hours," Travers said.

"He kept walking back and forth by the door when we were meeting with the Red Cross and then my son told me he questioned my granddaughter about what the meeting was about," she added.

The federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department gives MANFF $656,000 a year in operating funds. Ottawa reimburses MANFF for most of the cost of flood-evacuee assistance, now in excess of $70 million. MANFF's job is registering evacuees, finding and paying for hotel accommodations or reimbursing evacuees for rent for private accommodations, arranging food and overseeing emergency evacuations.

-- with files from Mia Rabson

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2013 0

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