Tornado an 'emotional roller-coaster' for Ottawa-area residents

All levels of government are joining forces to help with restoration efforts today, two days after a pair of tornadoes ravaged Ottawa and the Gatineau, Que., area, leaving tens of thousands without power.

70,000 Hydro Ottawa customers are still without power

More than 60 homes were damaged or partially damaged in Dunrobin after a tornado ripped through the area. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

All levels of government are joining forces to help with restoration efforts Sunday, two days after a pair of tornadoes ravaged Ottawa and the Gatineau, Que., area, leaving tens of thousands without power. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited Ottawa Sunday afternoon to tour the damage. The province has also committed to launching a disaster recovery program for families and businesses trying to get back on their feet. 

"It's absolutely heart-wrenching," Ford said. "But this is a strong community. 

"We're being briefed every few hours and it's devastating. A lot of us have never seen anything like it."

Ford promised Ottawa residents that the provincial government "will spare no expense" to help people get back on their feet. 

"There's been great co-operation," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told CBC Radio's Fresh Air Sunday. But he said the damage to homes and hydro poles was extensive and it would take several days to restore power.

"It's something I never witnessed.… It's just really quite incredible the damage it did in a very short period of time."

Hydro Ottawa reported that 70,000 customers were still without power Sunday morning, down from over 170,000 when the tornadoes hit Friday. Around 8,100 ​Hydro-Québec customers in the Outaouais are still in the dark and a few thousand Hydro One customers in the Ottawa region are also still without power. Many of these households could be in the dark for days. 

"We've made tremendous headway in this effort," said Hydro Ottawa's Joseph Muglia. "This was a widespread storm … and wreaked a lot of havoc."

Environment Canada said Saturday there were two tornadoes. The one that hit Dunrobin, a rural Ottawa community about 36 kilometres west of the city's downtown, was likely an EF-3, meaning it had wind speeds of up to 265 km/h.

A second tornado was classified as an EF-2, with wind speeds of up 220 km/h, and affected the neighbourhood of Arlington Woods in Ottawa.

With roughly 400 traffic lights still out as of 5 p.m. Sunday, Ottawa city officials warned there would be major traffic delays Monday and urged people to stay home.

Federal government employees in the National Capital Region were told late Sunday night that they should avoid coming in to work Monday and should instead work from home if possible.

Ottawa's English public and Catholic school boards have also announced that all their schools will be closed Monday. Six of the city's French Catholic schools and two French public schools will also be closed.

Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College have all said classes will go ahead.

Dozens of homes were severely damaged when a tornado touched down in Dunrobin on Friday. (Catherine Cullen/CBC )

An 'emotional roller-coaster' 

Watson called the events an "emotional roller-coaster" for some communities in the Ottawa area, including rural Dunrobin.

Watson said that Saturday night, community members listened intently as emergency services from the area read out the homes destroyed by the extreme weather event. Many residents were unable to go back to Dunrobin for safety reasons and were learning, for the first time, what happened to their residences. 

Officials escorted many people to see their homes in Dunrobin for the first time Sunday afternoon.

Resident Chantal Rocheleau left her home Friday night by climbing out of the rubble. 

Chantal Rocheleau and her puppy managed to escape their home after a tornado ripped through Dunrobin on Sept. 21, 2018. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"The neighbourhood is devastated, I mean virtually every house is to the ground," Rocheleau said.

Relief efforts continue Sunday 

Hundreds of homes in Ottawa are either partially damaged or completely destroyed, Watson said. These families are either living with relatives or at one of the two emergency shelters set up by the city. 

Residents who are displaced can seek shelter at the West Carleton High School or at the Goulbourn Recreation Complex.

Those wishing to help can donate to the Canadian Red Cross, which is working with those in need of emergency assistance, the mayor said.

"Many of them are in shock and disbelief," he said. "They have lost everything."

The tornadoes also sent six people to local hospitals. The Ottawa Hospital said Sunday four people remain in the hospital, two are in critical condition and two are stable.

In addition to the traffic lights still not working, hundreds of trees have also been destroyed. Hydro crews from Vaughan, Ont., and Toronto are making their way to the city to support repair efforts, the mayor said. 

Emergency crews are focusing on the most severely hit areas, including Dunrobin, Craig Henry, Arlington Woods, the Hunt Club-Riverside area and the Paul Anka-McCarthy area.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau visits Gatineau shelter 

After the tornado touched down in Dunrobin, it went east across the Ottawa River, causing serious damage to Gatineau's Mont-Bleu neighbourhood.

Several people in Gatineau were transported to hospital with minor injuries. 

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and her two children were visiting an emergency shelter in Gatineau on Sunday to meet those affected by the storms.

"You see this kind of event 30 minutes from your house, and you see the footage of people losing their home, their car, their security," she said in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada.

"The courage and the resilience of the community are very impressive.... There are old people there, pregnant women, people with three to six kids.… We need to help as much as possible."