Ottawa·Photos

Cleanup begins on both sides of the Ottawa River after powerful storm

Cleanup is underway on both sides of the Ottawa River after a severe thunderstorm rolled through the National Capital Region on Wednesday and carved a path of destruction. At least two serious injuries were reported.

Damage likely caused by a downburst, not tornado, Environment Canada says

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      Cleanup is underway on both sides of the Ottawa River after a severe thunderstorm rolled through the National Capital Region on Wednesday and carved a path of destruction, with at least two serious injuries reported.

      Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm warning at about 3 p.m. ET, and it wasn't long before the damage was witnessed first-hand.

      Aylmer, Que., resident Jackie Godman returned home after work to her nearly 90-year-old log cabin and saw downed trees in the yard, including three that smashed through a roof and skylights.

      A skylight in this Aylmer, Que., cabin broke, sending debris onto the floor below during Wednesday's storm. (Kyle Fournier)

      "The impact was so strong on the house that it actually shattered the glass in the rooms where they struck. So, we're literally in a situation where we are covered in shards of glass all over the house," she said.

      It was the second time in recent months her house had been affected by a natural disaster. The front of the house was flooded in May when the Ottawa River rose dramatically in a matter of days. This time, the front of the house was the only part not affected and they repurposed plywood from the flood to patch holes in the roof.

      But even before she arrived home Wednesday, her neighbours had let themselves in to survey the damage and begin repairs.

      "It's been really great to see everybody on the street come together and help out. We've all been kind of affected in one way or another. I've seen some branches fallen on neighbour's vehicles…. It's just great to see everyone coming together to help their neighbours," said Goldman's neighbour, Kyle Fournier, who rushed over to help.

      Roof ripped off building in west end

      Across the river, in Ottawa's west end, high winds tore the roof off a low-rise apartment building at Carling Avenue and Sherbourne Road.

      Victoria Chellew's apartment in the building was damaged and she witnessed the destruction from across the street at a McDonald's she went to minutes before.

      I looked behind me and the roof just completely ripped off.- Victoria Chellew, whose apartment was damaged in the storm

      "It almost looked like we were in a carwash with how crazy the water was hitting the window. As it happened I turned around… and I saw the debris flying all over the place, and my initial thought was, 'Oh my God, if I didn't come in here sooner, I could have been hit by that,'" she said.

      "And then as soon as that thought came to my mind, I looked behind me and the roof just completely ripped off."

      Several people believed the extensive destruction was caused by a tornado.

      Not a tornado, Environment Canada says

      According to Environment Canada, however, the damage was too widespread to be caused by a tornado and was more likely a downburst.

      "When those downdrafts become particularly severe, they can hit the ground and spread out and do damage that to many people, to the public often, resembles tornadoes," said Peter Kimbell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada who was tracking the storm as it rolled through the region.

      He recorded about 90 km/h winds at the Experimental Farm around 3:15 p.m. 

      "The current of air basically hits the ground and spreads out, but it's still very strong and can certainly topple trees and do damage to buildings."

      But the difference is that downbursts don't rotate like tornadoes, he said.

      "[A tornado] basically causes damage in a line and it's usually very long and narrow. So, when you see trees down, they typically are in a convergence fashion, so converging towards the line of damage, and often times the damage trail will be hundreds of metres long, or more, but much less wide."

      Whatever the storm may be classified as, for Bill Ringer, 89, it was scary. He was at his home in Britannia Village watching the winds tear apart his backyard, rip down a third of his fence, some shingles off his roof and scatter his patio furniture across the lawn. He lost power after the storm because of a downed line.

      With the rain, I couldn't see what was happening. All I saw were the trees bending over…. It was just a mess.- Bill Ringer, a longtime resident of Britannia Village 

      "I started to get worried because it was coming down so hard. With the rain, I couldn't see what was happening. All I saw were the trees bending over…. It was just a mess."

      Danielle Vicha also lives in Britannia Village, and came home to find her neighbour's pine tree on top of her roof and her patio awning in tatters.

      "It's just pretty surprising to see. You're driving down the street, trees down everywhere and then you turn into your driveway and then there's this massive tree just on top of your house…. The driveway's covered. The patio's covered in leaves and trees and debris."

      She said she's thankful her landlord will undertake the cleanup.

      2 seriously injured by trees

      The two injuries reported were:

      • A 37-year-old woman taken to hospital in critical condition after a tree fell on her outside the General campus of the Ottawa Hospital.
      • A 56-year-old man struck by a falling tree near Britannia Beach, paramedics said in a tweet.

      He suffered chest injuries and was taken to hospital in stable condition.

      With files from Matthew Kupfer