When Richard Turcotte sees a strong wind bend the trees near his home in the Gatineau suburb of Aylmer, he remembers the afternoon of Aug. 4, 1994, the day all hell broke loose for hundreds of residents in the community.
"The most vivid of my memories is really throwing a piece of gypsum board across the wall under which my wife was unconscious covered in blood and all cut up by glass from the windows," said Turcotte.
On that Thursday afternoon a powerful F3 tornado cut a swath through what was then the town of Aylmer, hitting 385 homes and causing $8 million in damage in a matter of minutes. Fifteen people were injured in the tornado, but no one died.
Turcotte's wife and two friends that were staying at his home from Alberta had to be taken to the hospital with cuts across their bodies, but he said, luckily, no one was seriously injured.
"It is impossible to forget the strength of Mother Nature and the power of the wind," he said.
Former fire chief says scene was 'surreal'
Luc de la Durantaye, the town's fire chief at the time, said he was at the fire station as the storm rolled in, and watched as the skies darkened and felt the sudden drop in temperature.
A motorist then pulled over at the station and told him things were worse south of the station.
"[He] said that there were things flying around, over the car, tires and stuff," said de la Durantaye.
When he drove closer to the scene, he could see the damaged rooftops and fallen trees and as residents saw his fire department vehicle, they ran toward him despite the rain.
"You think you're in a movie," he said. "It was a little bit surreal image that I will keep in my mind."
Tornado also struck in Carp on same day
Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips said the tornado that struck Aylmer was actually part of a family of tornadoes that struck eastern Ontario and Quebec that day.
Smaller tornadoes also touched down in the community of Carp (now part of Ottawa) and near the Quebec towns of Laurel and Rawdon.
"But the one in Aylmer was the big one, no question about it," said Phillips.
Tornados have been measured in Canada for decades using the Fujita scale or F-scale, though in 2013 Environment Canada adopted a more precise Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF-Scale.
An F3 tornado brings wind gusts from 250-320 kilometres an hour and is capable of tearing off roofs and walls from homes, overturning trains and lifting and throwing cars off the ground.
Phillips said that on average, about one or two comparable tornadoes touch down in Canada a year, but they rarely hit metropolitan areas.
"It certainly did a lot of damage because it really hit in the heart of that village," he said.
'We were lucky'
While de la Durantaye and Turcotte both vividly remember the destruction, they also have strong memories of the way the community responded.
"We got a lot of help from absolute strangers who helped us pick up after the damage. The community was truly behind us," said Turcotte.
Both of his family's cars were destroyed in the tornado and his home had to be rebuilt. But he was insured and said he lost very little.
"All in all we were lucky, notwithstanding what had happened," he said. "There are better ways to get a house, so I don't recommend a tornado for anyone."