Race on to cover damaged Dunrobin homes ahead of rain

An army of volunteers is joining Ottawa firefighters in a race to save what they can of dozens of homes badly damaged in Friday's tornado.

200 skilled volunteers working to save damaged buildings

Brian Lowden sits on an overturned boat in his backyard among debris left by a tornado that hit Dunrobin two days earlier. The storm tore roofs off homes, overturned cars and felled power lines in the Ottawa community of Dunrobin and in Gatineau, Que. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

An army of volunteers is joining Ottawa firefighters in a race to save what they can of dozens of homes badly damaged in Friday's tornado.

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry confirmed about 200 "skilled" volunteers had been cleared to enter the damaged areas in Dunrobin. They will be boarding up windows, sheeting the roofs with tarps and clearing debris to make room for hydro crews to operate. 

The city still isn't sure of the extent of the damage in certain areas, but El-Chantiry said crews are working hard to beat the rain that's expected later this week.

"We're dealing with the logistics," he told reporters on Monday afternoon. 

A large chunk of the work will be devoted to clearing ditches of debris to prevent water blockage or overflow of contaminants, the councillor said. 

Hydro crews are still working on restoring power, and he expected by late afternoon on Monday sections of Dunrobin would have electricity again. 

Homes to be demolished

So far, 53 homes in his ward in the city's west end have been classified as significantly damaged. More than half will likely need to be demolished. The majority of owners of those homes have surveyed their properties with building inspectors to evaluate the damage. 

Many of the hundreds of volunteers screened for clearance to the damaged areas have construction experience, including contractor Ron Wilson.

We just want to come out and help the community.- Ron Wilson, volunteer

His workers are assisting to weatherproofing the homes in Dunrobin. 

"We live very close to this," he told CBC News. "We just want to come out and help the community."

One of the tornadoes hit especially close to home for Wilson: one of his wife's relatives was sucked out of his tractor by the powerful winds and is currently in hospital. 

El-Chantiry said crews are being assigned to "yellow" houses — the city is classifying damages to properties as either green, yellow or red, depending on their state of inhabitability — to prevent further destruction from bad weather. 

Homeowners are urged to contact their personal insurance companies first, then apply for the province's disaster assistance program, Anthony Di Monte, the general manager of Ottawa's Emergency and Protective Services, said Monday. 

The city's police chief also repeated a plea for people to stay away from the security perimeter. 

"It's not a secure area," Charles Bordeleau said. 

He added it's "not showing a lot of compassion" to people suffering losses if non-residents are swarming Dunrobin to take photos.