Heavy tornado damage in Lac Saint-Jean area
Olympic speedskater Marianne St-Gelais was visiting family when storm struck
Residents of an area north of Lac Saint-Jean in northeastern Quebec are scrambling to clean up the mess Monday after at least one tornado hit the area Saturday night, tearing apart buildings and bringing down trees.
That was in the community of Sainte-Elisabeth-de-Proulx, about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, while heavy winds battered other communities nearby.
Hundreds of people were affected, but no one was injured.
The tornado was rated an F1, fairly low on a scale that goes from zero to five, but enough to cause heavy damage.
Environment Canada said it's still trying to figure out if another community less than an hour's drive away, Saint-Ludger-de-Milot, was hit by a tornado, or a type of windstorm known as a microburst.
Either way, it was quite a scare for residents of the area.
Judith Mercier said she ran into her trailer for cover when the storm struck.
But when she heard a bang when a tree fell on the roof of her trailer, she ran back out and hid in her father's vehicle out front.
They watched as her nearby van was slammed by falling trees.
"It was incredible; it wasn't one tree after another; it was three, four, five at the same time," she said in French.
Firefighter Gilles Richard said they were afraid they'd find people crushed by fallen trees.
Environment Canada said conditions were right for extreme weather. It was warm, humid and the air was unstable.
Fire Chief Patrick Bouchard says he's used to storms that knock over a few trees.
"But never a catastrophe like this," he said in French.
Olympic speedskaters Marianne St-Gelais and Charles Hammelin arrived just after the storm to visit St-Gelais' parents.
"I was expecting some damage," she said in French, "but I didn't even recognize the place, and I've been coming here for 21 years."
Despite the shock it caused, Environment Canada said this kind of weather isn't rare.
On average, six tornadoes are reported each summer in the province of Quebec.
Most of them are weak tornadoes, and the one Saturday in Ste-Elisabeth-de-Proulx was the third of the season.
Still, it was enough to frighten Madelaine Gagnon.
"Everyone's alive, and that's what counts," she said.