Gatineau tornado victims left piecing lives back together

Residents of Gatineau's hard-hit Mont-Bleu neighbourhood have been searching for more than their belongings, scattered by Friday's terrifying tornado — they're also hunting for the answers they need to start rebuilding their lives.

Many residents of hard-hit Mont-Bleu neighbourhood students, low-income

Law student Edynne Grand-Pierre lost nearly everything when a tornado tore the roof off her Mont-Bleu apartment building Friday. She had only lived there three weeks when the violent storm struck. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Residents of Gatineau's hard-hit Mont-Bleu neighbourhood have been searching for more than their belongings, scattered by Friday's terrifying tornado — they're also hunting for the answers they need to start rebuilding their lives.

"Nobody is really telling us anything," said Selena Popovic, 23, an international student from Serbia studying at the University of Ottawa.

Popovic has been staying with friends since the tornado tore the roof and rear wall off her rue Georges-Bilodeau apartment building, now classified as a "red zone" — the category reserved for the most seriously damaged structures.

"We don't know if our building is going to be demolished, when is it going to be demolished, when are we going to be able to come back, if we're ever going to be able to come back," Popovic said.

Selena Popovic, right, says she's had no information from the City of Gatineau about whether her Mont-Bleu apartment building will be demolished. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A surreal scene

It's a surreal scene. A staircase at the rear of the building is open to the sky, the roof lifted away, but a drying rack hung with clothes is still visible in what's left of Popovic's second-floor kitchen, seemingly untouched.

"I don't think the city is telling us a lot, to be honest," said Popovice, who signed up for alerts form the City of Gatineau, but said she hasn't received any messages.

The view from what's left of the rear staircase of Selena Popovic's rue Georges-Bilodeau apartment building, destroyed by Friday's tornado. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"We would like to know what's going to happen with us."

The City of Gatineau said Monday it's identified 212 damaged buildings in Gatineau's most heavily affected area, many of them multi-residential structures. It's not known how many will have to be demolished.

The city said 1,686 housing units were damaged or destroyed Friday, meaning hundreds are displaced. Many don't know where to turn.

Deepusankar Sivasankaran Nair, whose apartment was damaged by Friday's tornado, waits with his family's belongings.

Lost nearly everything

Edynne Grand-Pierre, 19, also a student at the University of Ottawa, had only moved into her third-floor apartment three weeks ago when the tornado tore off the building's roof and vacuumed most of her belongings out with it.

"That's the living room, and right beside, with nothing, that's my room," she said, gesturing toward what's left of her unit in the brown brick lowrise. 

Residents are combing through the wreckage of their homes and reaching out to help neighbours after tornadoes ripped through Ottawa-Gatineau on Sept. 21. 2:47

Along with her bed, clothes and jewelry, Grand-Pierre also lost her law text books. With no insurance, she's hoping the university will help her replace them.

One of Grand-Pierre's friends has offered her a room for two weeks. After that, she's not sure what will happen.

"To redo the process, and try to find an apartment?" she said, shrugging her shoulders.

Selena Popovic and a friend retrieve belongings from Popovic's damaged apartment. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Low-income residents

The loss of so many moderately-priced units in a tight rental market is a particular hardship for the many low-income residents who lived in them.

Deepusankar Sivasankaran Nair, 33, and his family arrived in Canada from India just eight months ago, and moved into their Gatineau apartment a little more than one month ago. It was heavily damaged by the tornado.

The elevator mechanic and his wife were both searching for jobs.

Now, all their belongings stuffed into suitcases, the family has moved in with a friend. After that, they're not sure.

"Maybe the Red Cross?" Sivasankaran Nair said. "What will we do? We don't know.... We are suffering."

Gatineau's Mont-Bleu neighbourhood suffered significant damage in Friday's storm. (Stu Mills/CBC)