Ottawa

Ottawa residents survey damage from devastating tornado

Residents in Ottawa's Dunrobin neighbourhood got their first chance Sunday to return to their tornado-ravaged homes following Friday's devastating twister.

Tornado with winds up to 265 km/h tore through neighbourhood Friday

Brian Lowden sits on an overturned boat in his backyard among debris left by the tornado that touched down in Dunrobin on Sept. 21. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Two days after a powerful twister tore through the rural Ottawa community of Dunrobin, residents got their first chance Sunday to return to their tornado-ravaged homes and assess the damage.

The tornado — one of two that touched down in the Ottawa-Gatineau region — graded out at the EF-3 level, meaning it had wind speeds reaching as high as 265 km/h.

One of the homes in its path was a 130-year-old former cheese workshop belonging to Laurel Wingrove and Alex Carlson.

The pair had been at a wedding when suddenly, right after the ceremony wrapped up, they began getting texts, phone calls and Facetime messages from friends and loved ones in Ottawa.

On Sunday, they were back home, checking out the damage and trying to salvage what they could. 

"We're like, you know what? This is all replaceable," said Wingrove, who was able to find her birth certificate among the debris.

"But it's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, for sure." 

Carlson, a volunteer firefighter with the Dunrobin Fire Department, said that if it weren't for the wedding, he likely would have ended up getting called to the scene of his own home's destruction.

"It's weird to be on the other end of things," said Carlson, who also ran a small business out of the home.

 "Obviously it splits you a couple different ways. I'm still thinking [about] a lot of other people, and it's not just us in this boat."

A firefighter hands Alex Carlson his laptop, which was recovered from the wreckage of his Dunrobin home. A volunteer firefighter for the local fire department, Carlson might have been called to the scene of his own home's destruction had he not been out of the city at the time. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

'And then it passed'

The tornado also struck the house that Brian and Nicole Lowden had been renting as they built their permanent home in nearby Constance Bay.

They said they'd arrived home just a few minutes before the tornado cut its swath through the neighbourhood.

When the winds picked up, Nicole Lowden said, they roused their 21-year-old son out of bed — he'd been working a long construction shift — and tried to get downstairs as quickly as possible.

They didn't make it.

"Just as we went past the stairs, the door blew open [and] a massive four-by-four came flying through the door," said Lowden, a local paramedic.

"My husband had the wherewithal to say 'Let's just crouch down here by the refrigerator.' So we just huddled together. And then it passed."

On Sunday, Lowden was out gathering up things that had been blown out of the family's home by the twister — as well as mementos, like a set of ultrasound photos, that belonged to complete strangers.

She urged anyone who came across personal items to take them to West Carleton High School, one of a pair of emergency shelters set up after the storm.

"Some people are walking away with very little. So please, just take the stuff [there]," she said. "Because you don't know what it means to somebody."

Watch Nicole Lowden describe how a tornado destroyed her home in the rural Ottawa community of Dunrobin:

Nicole Lowden describes how a tornado Friday destroyed her home in the rural Ottawa community of Dunrobin. 1:58

Some were lucky

A second tornado — slightly weaker but still devastating — also touched down Friday near Greenbank and West Hunt Club roads.

Nicole Lowden was out collecting personal items blown away by the tornado that touched down in Dunrobin on Friday. She urged people to take anything they'd found to West Carleton High School, one of a pair of emergency shelters set up following Friday's storm. (CBC)

In all, hundreds of homes in the Ottawa were either partially damaged or completely destroyed by two tornadoes, according to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Paul Loveys was one of the many people displaced by the twisters, and spoke Sunday from the shelter at West Carleton High School about the damage to his home — but also his comparative good fortune.

"We were one of the, I'd say, lucky ones in that we were allowed to go back to live in the house. It's been deemed livable," Loveys said.

"Our wall's out, there's a hole in the ceiling, a few windows are out. Doesn't sound good but [it's all] relative. Our neighbour's house is completely levelled."

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, whose ward includes Dunrobin, said social services and public health workers were making themselves available to support people seeing their ravaged homes for the first time.

El-Chantiry also urged residents to remain patient, since the level of damage has left many homes unsafe. For that reason, residents would have to be escorted from the temporary shelter to their property, he said.

"It's going to be a really emotional day, and it's going to be a very difficult day [for] some of the families," El-Chantiry said.

"My heart goes to them, because no matter what we say, no matter what we do — it's not going to be good enough."

With files from Catherine Cullen and Krystalle Ramlakhan

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