'My family is going to die here': Gatineau father recalls tornado terror
Friday's tornado nearly tore James Widder's daughter, 4, from his grasp
As a tornado shredded his Gatineau, Que., apartment Friday afternoon, James Widder gripped his four-year-old daughter by her fingertips, terrified the small child would be torn from his grasp.
"When [the tornado] ripped our roof, my daughter went flying off. I was holding her hand in the air and I almost let go. She was slipping," he said that afternoon, not long after an EF3 tornado with winds that may have peaked at 265 km/h tore across the Ottawa River from Dunrobin, where it had flattened houses and injured at least four.
"I said, 'If she's going to die, I'm going to die with her.' Then [the tornado] finally passed."
On Sunday, he returned for the first time to the scene on rue Georges-Bilodeau in the city's Mont-Bleu neighbourhood with the CBC's Rosemary Barton.
Widder said he'd been talking to his mother on the phone when he saw the storm approach. He paused to take a few pictures to send to her.
"As I was sending it to her my daughter came banging on the door, saying, 'Daddy, it looks like a tornado is coming!' And I said, 'No, there's no tornado,'" Widder recalled.
"I hit send, the next thing I know [there was a] wind gust, rain started — all of a sudden it all came spiralling down."
Spying his bed and dresser through a missing wall on Sunday brought back the terror.
"It all happened so fast, but when you're actually in it, it felt like forever," he said.
"I just thought to myself, this is it. My family is going to die here. We're going to die together."
Widder said he doesn't know if or when his family will be able to recover their belongings from the heavily damaged unit.
He said his youngest daughter is having trouble sleeping, but he feels lucky they're all alive.
"The fact we all survived is a total miracle."