Difficult Christmas ahead for tornado victims, relief group warns

Relief workers in the west Ottawa community of Dunrobin are expressing concern for residents still struggling with the aftermath of September's devastating tornado as winter sets in and the holidays near.

West Carleton Disaster Relief providing families with everything from trees to counselling

Angela Bernhardt is vice-president of West Carleton Disaster Relief, a group helping victims of the tornado that struck Dunrobin on Sept. 21. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Relief workers in the west Ottawa community of Dunrobin are expressing concern for residents still struggling with the aftermath of September's devastating tornado as winter sets in and the holidays near.

At latest meeting organized by West Carleton Disaster Relief on Tuesday — the first gathering snow first blanketed the region last week — vice-president Angela Bernhardt warned some tornado victims still have tarps covering holes in their roofs.

"We want to make sure that everybody is safe and sealed for winter," Bernhardt said.

She said many residents are still filing insurance claims and applications with the provincial disaster recovery assistance program.

The snow has also put a temporary halt to the volunteer effort to recover belongings that were blown from people's homes and businesses.

"At this point our searches are on hold," said Ruth Sirman, who's coordinating that effort.

"We haven't quite figured out how to go and find stuff under [the] snow. So we will, if the opportunity presents itself, go back out," 

The group has two tables of covered with various found items including prescription glasses, children's books, clothes and photos that are yet to be claimed.

Keeping Christmas spirit

Bernhardt said the local relief effort is providing Christmas trees and decorations for people affected by the tornado.

There will also be a turkey Christmas dinner for 250 people — complete with Santa Claus and toys — on Dec. 15 in Fitzroy Harbour.

Organizer Lori McGrath said it's all part of the effort to help maintain victims' mental health and create a positive environment, especially for children whose holiday will be disrupted.

Lori McGrath is a volunteer organizing a Christmas dinner for 250 people affected by the Dunrobin tornado. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"We don't want any of our families to feel like they're alone," McGrath said. "I think by bringing everybody together at one family dinner it's going to make a big difference."

The West Ottawa Community Resource Centre is also providing counselling out of the Kinburn Client Centre on Fridays and Saturday.

A support group has started meeting on Mondays.

The centre is also discussing a support group specifically for children and youth, in partnership with a local high school.