Ottawa residents begin long, slow recovery after twin tornado touchdowns Staff
Published Sunday, September 23, 2018 8:16AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 23, 2018 10:12AM EDT

Residents and crews of the Ottawa-Gatineau region are now beginning the massive rebuilding effort and long rehabilitation process after the area was hit by twin tornadoes.

“This (area) is kind of an extension of tornado alley through southern Ontario. It’s very rare that we have a tornado this strong, this late in the season,” David Sills, Environment Canada, told CTV News late Saturday.

Friday’s twin tornadoes caused massive damage obliterating dozens of homes, tossing vehicles around, snapping huge trees and injuring several people, at least two of whom were admitted to hospital in critical condition.

Environment Canada says one powerful EF-3 category twister ripped through Dunrobin, Ont., just west of Ottawa, before moving on to devastate the densely populated area of Gatineau, Que. At nearly exactly the same time, a slightly less powerful twister, touched down in the south Ottawa neighbourhood of Arlington Woods.

No fatalities have been reported, which a number of officials have marvelled at given the vast amount of property damage the twisters caused. Approximately 60 buildings were wiped out or partially destroyed in Dunrobin, Ont., while in Gatineau more than 215 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Like many residents in the region, Gatineau resident Melissa St. Pierre was told not to return to her house. She did anyhow, saying she had to to retrieve her daughter’s belongings. On Saturday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said it "literally…looks like some bomb was dropped from the air."

At one point more than 200,000 hydro customers were blacked out, but as of early Sunday morning, the Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Quebec websites report the number had been reduced to fewer than 80,000 -- 70,000 in the Ottawa area and 8,300 in the Outaouais region, which encompasses Gatineau.

Hydro Ottawa tweeted Sunday morning that they were working with Hydro One to repair the Merivale station, which supplies large swaths of the region, but that there isn’t any estimated time when power will be returned.

Hydro Ottawa CEO Bryce Conrad compared the magnitude of the damage to the power grid to the debilitating ice storm of 1998 on Saturday. He also warned people to brace for a multi-day power outage following what he described as a "cascading failure" of hydro resources.

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Community banding together

The kindness of strangers has been playing a significant role in the aftermath of Friday's tornado. A lot of people have been stepping up to help storm victims with a hot meal, an outlet to charge their phone or a shower.

Shawna Tregunna tweeted a photo of pancakes saying she was cooking up hot meals all day. She also offered to deliver the vast buffet she prepared, and was kept busy doing so from Friday afternoon until late Saturday night.

Tregunna said she had plenty of help in her Good Samaritan efforts with "tons of volunteers, lots of donation offers, lots of offers to do delivery."

Another Ottawa resident, Erin Blaskie, had the same charitable idea, tweeting out a photo of a pot of chili saying anyone without a hot meal could message her for her address, while In Kanata North, Karen Woods opened up her home to people who needed a shower or their batteries recharged.

Another person who’s noticed the generosity of the community is Todd Nicholson, who lives in the hardest hit area of Dunrobin. He told CTV News channel that both his family and his brother’s family are homeless after their homes were destroyed.

“The storm basically took our home and everything in it… it’s something I’ve never witnessed living here for years,” the former Paralympian said.

“It’s tough but at the same time the community has really rallied together. This is a community that has come together to create some sort of normalcy.”

Trying to return to 'some sort of normalcy'

He went on to say that several sports groups in the city plan to return the registration and equipment fees for children enrolled in hockey programs. On Saturday, the Ottawa Senators Foundation launched a GoFundMe page to raise moeny for the victims of the tornado and has pledged to match the first $25,000 given through the page.

"This is our home, and being part of a community coming together in times of need. The Ottawa Senators hockey club and their fans at home,” the club wrote on the page.

The Canadian Army Run, a charity run which raises money for families of the country’s armed forces like the Air Force, Army and Navy, is also still going as planned Sunday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Saturday that he'd spoken with the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau to offer federal assistance.

The Ontario government announced Saturday that it was activating the province's Disaster Recovery Assistance program in affected areas. Under the program, individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations that have experienced property damage or loss as a result of the storm may be eligible to receive help with emergency and recovery expenses.

The Quebec government announced it would give the Red Cross $1 million to help with relief efforts. On Saturday, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said, “we are concentrating on people, getting people back home as soon as possible, as safely as possible.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he plans to visit the Ottawa area today to see for himself the devastation caused by Friday's tornado. On Saturday, he said he’d "do whatever it takes to help them get back on their feet."