Dunrobin celebrates triumphs in the wake of last year's tornado

Dunrobin residents took time Saturday to show their community's strength on the one-year anniversary of a devastating tornado that tore through their neighbourhood.

Community honoured volunteers on anniversary of devastating storm

Members of the West Carleton Warriors peewee hockey team were among those recognized at a community gathering in Ottawa's Dunrobin neighbourhood on Sept. 21, 2019, one year after the community was devastated by a tornado. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Dunrobin residents took time Saturday to commemorate their community's strength, one year to the day that a devastating tornado that tore through their neighbourhood. 

A small crowd gathered at a local community centre to hear speeches and celebrate volunteers, emergency workers, and even the local peewee hockey team for their help with the cleanup.

The tornado was one of six that touched down in the Ottawa-Gatineau region on Sept. 21, 2018. They destroyed homes and buildings, uprooted trees and power poles, and knocked out electricity in some places for days.

Dunrobin was particularly hard hit, and on Saturday people wiped away tears as residents and volunteers recounted both individual and collective contributions to the rebuilding effort.

One of the people singled out for heroism was daycare worker Janetta Boomer. 

Janetta Boomer huddled in a hallway with five children in her care as the tornado blasted through the home next to them. Today she's still dealing with the trauma. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Suffering from PTSD

Boomer had five children in her care when the tornado struck. When they saw the winds rip off the roof of a neighbouring home, she gathered them into the hallway of the local daycare.

"I said, 'Everybody, heads down, let's hug, cuddle,'" said Boomer. "And I just prayed, because I didn't have any place safe to take these children."

Boomer said both she and some of the children who were in her care that day are suffering from the aftereffects of that trauma, including fear of storms and wind.  She said she's been diagnosed with PTSD. 

"It's my responsibility to tell them they're OK," she said. "But that's hard to do when I'm suffering as well."

She almost didn't come to the event, because of the memories stirred up by the anniversary. But she said she's grateful for the support she's received from the tight-knit community.

Wally Lucente (left) and Frank Janz (right), both members of the West Carleton Warriors, rallied with teammates and parents like Shelley Welsh (centre) to win the $100,000 Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup for their volunteering efforts. The team was honoured with a plaque Saturday. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Hockey helpers

The West Carleton Warriors peewee hockey team received a plaque for their volunteerism after both the tornado and 2019 spring floods.

They're probably best known for winning the Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup and its $100,000 prize, which was donated to the West Carleton Disaster Relief fund.

"They've met so many people and done so many things. The feel-good things that they have gained are priceless," said Shelley Welsh, who was also involved with the volunteer efforts at the flood zone earlier this year. 

Players like 12-year-old Wally Lucente volunteered to do everything from cleaning ditches to installing sandbags.

"Anything we can do to help," said Lucente, adding that many of the players will be going on to new teams this year.

"It's kind of sad 'cause we're so bonded," said Lucente. "But you gotta move on."

Adele Muldoon and her husband Leo have had to rebuild their farm after the tornado destroyed most of the farm buildings. Leo was blown off a ladder and spent weeks recovering in hospital. Now he's helping neighbours rebuild.

Leo Muldoon was one of three people seriously injured by the Dunrobin tornado, when it blew through his farm and swept him off his ladder, landing him in the hospital for weeks.

The79-year-old was thanked for his help volunteering with his tractor to help neighbours, a role his wife Adele said he much prefers to being a patient depending on others..

Ruth Sirman, right, has been helping families recover items strewn across the local farmland by the tornado and later found by volunteers — including photographs like these. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Ruth Sirman, who lives in nearby Bells Corners, was called an honourary Dunrobin resident for her efforts rallying people to take part in the post-tornado cleanup.

On Saturday, Sirman helped display some of the hundreds of photos and other personal items found strewn across the countryside after the storm.

"These mean something to somebody," said Sirman. 

The tornado spared the home of Michele Mariani (left) but his neighbours' homes were destroyed. He's been shadowing Coun. Eli El-Chantiry (right) and says he wants to become a politician so he can make a difference.

West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry gave a speech, tearing up at times as he remembered how hundreds of people pitched in to manage the cleanup.

He noted the community has now been stung by two floods and a tornado in just two years, and rebuilding work is still not complete.  

One year after a devastating tornado ripped through the rural Dunrobin community, people got together to celebrate their triumph over catastrophe. The community has suffered two floods and a tornado in two years. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

El-Chantiry had arranged for 17-year-old Michele Mariani to shadow him Saturday "to learn more about the political process." 

Mariani said the tornado blew through his own backyard, destroying homes on both sides of his family's property.

He said he has been inspired through the incident to learn more about how to get things done. 

"It's just amazing seeing this community come out, strangers becoming friends and trying to work together to fix this," said Mariani. 


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