Twin tornadoes damage dozens of homes, wipe out power across Ottawa-Gatineau
Crews have begun cleaning up debris and working to solve widespread power outages after powerful twin tornadoes tore through the Ottawa-Gatineau region Friday afternoon, ripping roofs off houses and sending at least six people to hospital.
The larger tornado, classified as a powerful EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale for wind damage, was 500 metres wide at one point, according to Peter Kimbell from Environment Canada.
The tornado exhibited wind speeds of between 240 and 260 km/h and tracked across the areas of Kinburn and Dunrobin in Ontario and Pontiac and Gatineau in Quebec.
It is the first time in recorded history that an EF3 tornado struck Canada in the month of September.
A second tornado, which had wind speeds of about 220 km/h, has been ranked a high EF2 and tracked across Arlington Woods and Craig Henry in the Ottawa area shortly later.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he has never seen such devastation in the city and described the aftermath as though “some bomb was dropped from the air.”
“I would say, certainly, if you’re ranking them, it’s in the top two or three major traumatic events that have affected our city and it has affected a lot of people,” Watson said in an interview with CTV Ottawa.
The Ottawa Hospital tweeted Saturday morning that five people were in hospital for storm-related injuries, down from six on Friday night.
The hospital said two patients were in critical condition, one was in serious condition and two others were considered stable.
There are no casualties or missing people reported. All four major hospitals in Ottawa experienced power outages and had to use back-up generators.
Officials encouraged people to stockpile food and water following the storm, which destroyed dozens of homes, overturned cars and felled power lines.
However, Pierre Poirier, the City of Ottawa's head of emergency management, cautioned that there wasn’t a need for a “mad rush” to stock up on supplies as Ottawa’s east end is running normally.
Firefighters also went door to door to determine whether structures were safe. Officials warned people not to re-enter their homes until they had been deemed OK.
Scenes of destruction were found across the region.
In Dunrobin, George and Fran McLaughlin watched a near-finished indoor therapeutic horse riding arena they had been building for the past two months get ripped to shreds by the raging winds. The project was worth tens of thousands of dollars.
George said the tornado “felt like a tidal wave.”
“We’ll just pick up the pieces and we’ll keep going because you know, you can’t give up just because something like this happens,” Fran added.
In the same community, Ottawa Police Sgt. Mark Gatien found a piece of history amid the rubble.
“As I’m standing on the edge of the roadway, I could see something glinting in the sunshine,” he told CTV News.
Picking it up, he realized that it was a Second World War medal. Gatien is now vowing to reunite it with its owner.
“Hopefully he can at least have one memory of the devastation back from World War Two,” he said.
In Nepean, Arthur Jin told CTV Ottawa that he “heard something like a tank running” before the storm ripped the roof off his house.
When a reporter toured his house, cracks could be seen in the walls, insulation was scattered everywhere and sunlight burst through many parts of the ceiling.
“Everything happened within a minute,” Jin said. “We were told by the insurance company that the house is unlivable.”
The community of Dunrobin was particularly hard-hit, with at least 60 homes being damaged.
“It hit us dead-on,” Matt Bowen told CTV Ottawa. The gift shop he owns was completely levelled.
“We are just plugging away and getting things done,” he said after sorting through the rubble and debris. “We’ve had a lot of volunteers come out and help us, despite all the destructing around.”
More than 140,000 people were still without power as of Saturday afternoon after more than 200 power outages hit the region.
Hydro Ottawa CEO Bryce Conrad added that the outages are a result of "cascading failure" of hydro resources. Stunning drone footage released by Hydro Ottawa shows some of that damage.
“Arguably, it’s (as) bad if not worse than the ice storm in 1998,” Conrad said, comparing the damage done to their infrastructure.
Typically in September, Ottawa uses 100 megawatts of power. The tornado knocked out two-fifths of that supply and “that’s why we’re dark,” Conrad said.
Conrad said a knocked-out transformer station was giving them the most trouble and that it could take several days to restore it because of debris in the way.
He added that workers are expected to start repairing the approximately 80 downed power lines Saturday and that some people would have their power restored in the next two days.
COMMUNITIES COME TOGETHER
Several residents found shelter in Ottawa’s West Carlton high school and Canterbury community centre, but other emergency centres are expected to open up in the coming days.
Charles Bordeleau, chief of the Ottawa Police Service, said “it was inspiring to see the community come together when people are in need.”
He noted that there will be an increased police presence in affected areas but he hasn’t heard of any public disorder calls that sometimes happen during power outages.
Bordeleau also mentioned that 300 intersections didn’t have working stop lights and urged drivers to use caution.
The police chief warned people to avoid areas with debris so as to not interfere with clean-up efforts already underway.
Anthony Di Monte, general manager of Ottawa's emergency and protective services, said Ottawa’s building and fire services are assessing structural damage across the city.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Friday that his government was monitoring the situation.
“To everyone dealing with the aftermath of the tornado in Dunrobin, ON & the Ottawa-Gatineau area – stay safe, follow the instructions of first responders and check in with people who might need extra help. We’re monitoring the situation and thinking of everyone affected,” he wrote.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and other provincial party leaders visited devastated parts of his province Saturday.
“We are concentrating on people, getting people back home as soon as possible, as safely as possible,” he told reporters.
Couillard also announced that Quebec was making a $1 million donation to the Red Cross to help deal with the aftermath.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who plans to visit the region on Sunday, issued a statement Saturday on the tornado.
"On behalf of the government of Ontario, I want to tell the people of Ottawa that my thoughts are with them as they work to recover from the tornado and storm that impacted the Ottawa area yesterday; especially to the people of Dunrobin who saw immense damage to their homes and community," said Ford, who also thanked first responders and hydro crews.
Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said more than 700 of his citizens were impacted by the storm and about 100 people took refuge in a shelter Friday night at a local college.
More than 215 buildings suffered damage or were destroyed in Gatineau, affecting a total of 1,686 housing units.
With files from CTV Ottawa and The Canadian Press
Drone footage showing the extent of the damage in the Greenbank Rd area of the city. For your safety and the safety of our crews, please stay away for all hydroelectric infrastructure. #Ottcity #Ottnews @OttawaOutage pic.twitter.com/TrRxYO18l6— Hydro Ottawa (@hydroottawa) September 22, 2018
.@hydroottawa says all crews, contractors and utility partners are working 24/7 to restore power to 137,000 customers since Friday's tornado and massive wind storm. Merivale's station was heavily damaged which supplies much of #Nepean #ottnews pic.twitter.com/kOO7OYg2vN— carolan w. lesaux (@cwadsworthCTV) September 22, 2018
The most heavily hit area has 215 buildings, including 1,686 dwellings, according to the city of GATINEAU. More than 585 people have registered at the victims centre &— Annie BergeronOliver (@AnnieClaireBO) September 22, 2018
225 people have used the services at the accommodation centre. @CTVNationalNews pic.twitter.com/e8ds9UesPr