Fort McMurray funeral home staff hauled body, cremated remains during evacuation

As residents of Fort McMurray snatched up key belongings before fleeing their homes last week, employees at the northern Alberta community's lone funeral home packed a more "precious" cargo.

As residents of Fort McMurray snatched up key belongings before fleeing their homes last week, employees at the northern Alberta community’s lone funeral home packed a more “precious” cargo.

The evacuation order that displaced some 80,000 people came days before a scheduled funeral service, and staff at the Robert Anderson Funeral Home had to safeguard the deceased’s body, the company’s funeral director said.

“We were part of the evacuees, we were in the lineups, we just happened to have had a deceased with us on the route to Edmonton,” Andrew Montgomery told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview.

“Obviously, we have precious cargo and we just take every precaution that we can,” he said. “We were more than ready to go. We had files packed up, cremated remains packed up and we’ve got them all in safe storage here in Edmonton.”

The body was placed on a stretcher and transported in a removal van.

“We just…did what we had to do,” Montgomery said. In those situations, he said, “We’ve just got to think of things really quickly.”

Asked if he was stressed to shoulder such responsibility at a time of crisis, Montgomery said: “It makes you forget about your own problems.”

“You just go into this mode, it’s a little bit crazy,” he said.

A funeral home in Edmonton has agreed to “house the body for us in a controlled environment” until the service, which is to be held in the city later this week.

The company has been talking with family members about arrangements, he said.

The man’s daughter had previously posted on Facebook that the service would be postponed until further notice.

The funeral home has set up shop temporarily in Edmonton until it can return to Fort McMurray.

Satellite images suggest the funeral home is “still intact,” Montgomery said, but it’s unclear when it will be able to operate.

All three staff members are doing well so far and it appears their homes have been spared, he said.

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