Karen Sturdy remembers that first night at her neighbour’s home, hours after a powerful tornado had ripped through her two-storey house in Goderich, Ont., back in 2011.
Although her 1853 heritage home remained standing, she knew the damage it endured meant it would eventually have to come down.
“The first night I didn’t sleep, I just kept sitting there, looking at this house that I had invested in for 32 years knowing it was going to be gone," she said.
Sturdy said she feels for and relates to the residents of Angus, Ont., who are now dealing with the aftermath of the tornado that hit their community on Tuesday.
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“I feel so sorry for those people because ... you’re looking around and trying to decide what you’re going to do and there's all these people trying to tell you to do this, do that."
She had been in her home when the tornado hit, and had fled immediately to the basement. Sturdy said the tornado had picked up the house slightly and dropped it, cracking the beams in her basement. She credited jack posts for preventing the house from imploding while she was in the basement.
"We came out, it was complete devastation," she said. "It's an awful shock that you're in."
About 100 homes in Angus were damaged by the tornado, which forced hundreds of residents out of their residences until authorities can assess the damage. There were no fatalities and only a few people reported minor injuries.
"It's quite a sobering 'your world is turned upside down' experience," said David Sykes, the former publisher of the Goderich Signal-Star, who covered the tornado when it hit his town. "Just suddenly your house is gone, your power is gone, all of your lifelines are simply not there."
Goderich was hit much harder than Angus and suffered more damage, including the destruction of much of the downtown core and many businesses. One person was killed and more than 30 injured. Around 40 homes were destroyed, with damages estimated at at least $150 million.
For many in Goderich, the recovery moved along quickly, said Sykes. But for others, it took time to resolve insurance issues and to get their insurance funds approved and flowing. In some cases, people were out of their homes for a couple of years, he said.
"They would take time to make the determination as to whether to restore the property or declare it unfit and have it bulldozed and rebuilt," Sykes said. "And a lot of these buildings had to be torn down and rebuilt. It takes time."
Sturdy, who managed to rent a senior retirement home, wasn't able to move into her new house until 22 months later. Although she was pleased with how her insurance company handled her situation, she said the recovery still can take a lot of time.
“We thought we’d be out there for four months or until Christmas, but when you’re dealing with insurance it’s quite a procedure.”
'Everybody is in the same boat'
For a small town, hiring contractors can also be a problem with so many people needing work done on their homes at the same time.
"Everybody is in the same boat and everybody is trying to get somebody in to do their house right away, and, even if it doesn't have to come down, to fix it up to get in it," she said. "There's a house down the street, they just finished it up last month."
Other issues can come up as well. Sturdy said because of the age of her home, some of the materials contained hazardous substances like lead and asbestos and couldn't be taken away to ordinary dumps. And all that takes extra time and money.
Sturdy said people need to be aware of what costs are covered. For example, she said one woman got a cash settlement from an insurance company and then called town officials to take her home away.
"They said we don’t do that. You have to hire a demolition company. It was going to be $20,000. She said she didn’t make any allowance for that."
Lois Vanstone, whose home was also damaged beyond repair in the Goderich tornado, said "it was devastating" to see her old home ruined, calling the ordeal a "life-changing" experience, and all the more challenging because her and her husband were elderly.
She said they were out for 10 months, and had a new home rebuilt based on the house plans of her old home.
"You have to go day by day. Certainly, a lot of things to deal with. There's a lot of things you keep thinking about, things you lost and things that probably meant a lot to you that you won't get back."