Quebec premier vows to help Mascouche, as crews clean up destruction left by powerful tornado
Neighbour recounts final moments of 59-year-old who was killed when shed he took shelter in was destroyed
Walking through a neighbourhood that was hit by a tornado, Quebec Premier François Legault heard a range of terrifying stories.
He spoke with those who watched the tornado blow by, narrowly missing their homes, and others who felt the full force of the whirling winds that wreaked havoc on their properties and killed one 59-year-old man in Mascouche, Que., on Monday.
"I am happy to see that the citizens are being cared for," said Legault, who offered financial support as needed to residents and the municipality as crews worked to clean up the debris.
Environment Canada confirms that the tornado travelled three kilometres through the city of 42,000 located about 40 kilometres northeast of Montreal, with winds reaching up to 220 km/h.
Roof shingles, barbecues and trampolines took flight, mature trees were snapped like twigs and windows shattered as the violent twister touched down on Cabane-Ronde Road at around 3:45 p.m.
The tornado made its way to Lapointe Street near Autoroute 25. An estimated 50 homes were heavily damaged by the category EF2 storm.
"You'd think it's a scene from an American movie, but we're in Quebec," said Mayor Guillaume Tremblay.
Jacques Lefebvre was killed after the shed he had taken cover in was lifted away. The mayor said his heart goes out to Lefebvre's family.
Tremblay walked through a battered neighbourhood with the province's premier on Tuesday, discussing the devastation while detailing efforts to get the electricity back on and the debris cleared out.
Legault learned more about Lefebvre, a father and grandfather described by neighbours as someone who was involved in the community and always ready to lend a hand.
The premier offered condolences to the man's grief-stricken family who huddled together as they spoke with Legault, tears in their eyes.
'I was lucky,' says victim's neighbour
Michel Vachon said he was outside with Lefebvre, building a small bridge behind their houses when they saw the tornado approaching.
"I was lucky because I had time to go home, but Jacques was too far to go home," he said.
Vachon said his neighbour's body was found tens of meters away in a field where there now rests a pot of red flowers, placed on a torn piece of plywood, with a note that reads: "Hey Jacques, thanks for everything. Rest in peace."
Neighbours speak of being scared and awed by the passing tornado, watching as bikes and lawnmowers were tossed into the air.
Vladimir Cherubin's 14-year-old daughter was in the family's basement when she felt their house shake.
Minutes later, she went upstairs to find their fence demolished and the roof of their gazebo gone. Two of their swings went through a neighbour's window, Cherubin said.
"I think it was more traumatizing, as a parent, not being with my kids, and hearing about it over the phone," he said. "I'm just glad my kids are safe."
Province to help, Legault says
Legault said there's a lot of cleaning up to do and the province will help.
"We have to take action," said Legault.
"For example, for trees that have been affected, unfortunately we have to cut some of them to make sure they don't do more damage."
Of the roughly 1,200 customers still without power, he said most can expect it back on Tuesday evening and the rest on Wednesday.
Legault said it is too early to estimate the extent of the damage, but only one person needed emergency housing while the rest were able to stay in their homes or bunk with family and friends.
As for the damage to homes, he said, "insurance will provide compensation, but we will help if necessary."
Generally, this type of wind damage is covered by the vast majority of home insurance plans, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Mascouche's mayor said the city was caught off guard by the tornado, but its emergency response plan was quickly set in motion and it worked well.
The province's minister of public security, Geneviève Guilbault, said, "there was a very, very orchestrated, very quick, very organized reaction."
No warning from Environment Canada
Environment Canada issued severe thunderstorm watches for many parts of southern and central Quebec on Monday due to humidity and high temperatures.
The agency warned there was a risk of tornadoes in certain areas and residents in those areas received alerts on their phones. However, there was no warning for Mascouche.
Environment Canada meteorologist Steve Boily said there wasn't an alert issued for Mascouche as the conditions didn't seem right for such a powerful event there.
He said the agency doesn't send out tornado warnings as often as it used to because when nothing happens, people eventually stop taking such alerts seriously.
"We saw those storms and we were chasing the storms all day and eventually one of them developed a strong tornado and unfortunately there was a fatality," he said. "It's always sad."
with files from CBC's Kwabena Oduro, Derek Marinos, Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne