Hydro crews work to restore power following a tornado in Dunrobin, Ont., west of Ottawa, on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. The tornado that hit the area was on Friday, Sept, 21. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Hydro crews work to restore power following a tornado in Dunrobin, Ont., west of Ottawa, on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. The tornado that hit the area was on Friday, Sept, 21. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s capital region picking up the pieces following destructive tornados

Dozens of homes were destroyed by the tornadoes

Residents from across Canada’s national capital region who were hit hardest by Friday’s devastating tornados have started the difficult task of rebuilding their homes — and their lives.

Festus John worried about his future Monday in a Gatineau, Que., community centre that had been transformed into an emergency shelter for hundreds of people unable to return to their storm-ravaged homes.

The 35-year-old Christian man fled to the United States from Nigeria five years ago after marrying a Muslim woman and receiving threats against his life.

John was one of hundreds who crossed by land into Quebec in January in the hopes of seeking asylum in Canada. He only recently moved to Gatineau, a city just north of Ottawa.

While he escaped without injury when a tornado struck Gatineau, John’s home — and the documents that he needed for his upcoming refugee hearing — were not so lucky. High-speed winds tore off the roof and rain flooded the basement where he had been staying.

“I lost everything,” he said, adding that he will be expected to present documents supporting his story during his refugee hearing. But “the evidence is gone. So I don’t know how the situation can work out for me.”

READ MORE: Ottawa area residents take stock of tornado rubble as Ford tours the ruins

John was only one of many still struggling in the aftermath of Friday’s tornados, which devastated several communities on both sides of the Ottawa River.

Life through much of the region appeared to be on the verge of returning to normalcy after a weekend in which hundreds of thousands of residents were without electricity. On Monday, hydro crews working around the clock in both provinces were able to reconnect power in most areas.

Schools in Ottawa were shuttered Monday and most federal civil servants stayed home as city staff contended with power outages at hundreds of traffic signals across the city.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he expected schools to re-open in most areas and the request to keep the roads clear would be lifted.

Hundreds of residents, however, in Gatineau as well as the suburban community of Nepean in west Ottawa and the Ontario village of Dunrobin, where whole homes were levelled by Friday’s twisters, will feel the after-effects of the intense storms for the foreseeable future.

“This is a project that’s going to take months and months, if not a couple of years, to get all the houses up and built again,” Watson said Monday over the sound of chainsaws as he toured one of the most heavily damaged parts of Nepean.

“In some instances, I suspect, they’re going to have to tear them down because they are structurally unsound.”

The tornado that struck in Gatineau was largely centred on a part of the city featuring apartment buildings, many of which were populated by newcomers to Canada and low-income families.

Among them was 21-year-old Assag Mohamad, who had spent days in a shelter with his mother and siblings. The whole family had recently fled to Canada from Djibouti to escape ethnic fighting in the East African country.

He didn’t know when his family could return to their apartment.

“They say there is no electricity for the alarms and that the balconies could be weakened,” said Mohamad, who has been waiting for his permanent residency in the hopes of studying biology.

“Some power lines might be lying around too. So we cannot go back now.”

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, who was touring the emergency shelter with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, said about 600 people have been evacuated from the apartment buildings, and that the city had a special team specifically looking at the structures to ensure they are safe for return.

In the meantime, Pedneaud-Jobin said, housing will remain the most-critical challenge for the city in the short and long term, though he expressed confidence that the Canadian Red Cross and Gatineau’s experience with mass floods last year would help ensure a proper response.

While she praised the response in Gatineau, Payette acknowledged that there are residents who are facing severe strain because of their financial situations or a lack of family support.

“It breaks your heart,” she said. “We met some people who are completely new to the area. They don’t have any family. For them, the stress is very high. Then there are mothers of young children. There are many of them.”

Across the river in Dunrobin and Nepean, shaken residents were trying to clean up and repair homes and businesses as well as they could before the arrival of rain that was forecasted to start on Monday evening.

One of those was Paul Butler, whose home was among hundreds damaged when a tornado touched down in the picturesque Nepean neighbourhood of Arlington Woods, bringing towering pine trees down on roofs, flinging them through walls and leaving few still standing.

“We’re living in the basement right now until they tell us to get out,” Butler said as friends and family cleared piles of branches around the house, adding that the entire neighbourhood was worried about the coming rainfall.

Residents in Dunrobin were similarly working overtime, trying to salvage what they could even as the small rural community struggled to come to grips with what had just happened.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service did not have an update on six people reportedly injured in Friday’s tornados, including two who were listed in critical condition. But an official did say there had been reports of additional chainsaw-related injuries and cases of carbon-monoxide poisoning over the weekend.

Amid the devastation were touching moments and signs of neighbours coming together in a time of extreme need.

In Nepean, a group of volunteers walked from house to house offering soup, coffee and bottles of water. Businesses were offering to feed tired hydro workers. And in Gatineau, donations were flowing in even as many people at the shelter tried to remain upbeat despite the uncertainty ahead.

“We didn’t lose any lives, as far as I understand. But all the people from that area, they have gotten to know each other,” Corsini Alexander said with a smile as he stood outside the shelter.

“Some people did not speak to their neighbours. Now they’re speaking. So that’s a blessing.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich council approves of a five-story multi-family development at 300 Gorge Road West and 2900 Tillicum Road. (Rendering via Alan Lowe Architect Inc.)
Saanich approves five-story, mixed-use development for Tillicum area

Plans include 53 residential units, three commercial units at Tillicum Road, Gorge Road West

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

Coun. Niall Paltiel of Central Saanich has filed a notice of motion directing staff to work with the WSANEC leadership council to develop a program leading toward the “gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names for key collector and arterial roads”(Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich councillor wants road signs to use WSANEC names

Coun. Niall Paltiel proposes ‘gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names’ for key roads

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s first case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Royal Roads University president Philip Steenkamp said they are aware of hateful graffiti spray-painted in an area of the forest surrounding the campus. The graffiti in question includes anti-Semitic content and a racial slur towards Black people. (Facebook/Royal Roads University)
Anti-Semitic, hateful graffiti spotted in forest near Royal Roads University

Royal Roads working with West Shore RCMP to remove graffiti “as soon as possible”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read