Residents question lack of communication at disaster information session

Questions remain as to why many people didn't receive an emergency alert on their phones when multiple tornadoes struck the National Capital Region on Sept. 21.

Some didn't receive an emergency alert, while others say they heard nothing from the city immediately after

Hundreds of people packed into the Woodvale Pentecostal Church to hear from city and provincial officials about help for people affected by the storm. ( Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Questions remain as to why many people didn't receive an emergency alert on their phones when multiple tornadoes struck the National Capital Region on Sept. 21.

Hundreds of people from two of the hardest hit areas of the city — Arlington Woods and Craig Henry — turned up to a disaster information session Saturday hoping to get answers from provincial ministries and the city officials.

One of the worries centred around the lack of communication from the moment an emergency alert went out to the days people were left without power, many with homes they couldn't live in.

 What's going to happen the next disaster?- Betty Rose, Arlington Woods resident

Betty Rose was at home with her husband when the wind picked up and trees started crashing down around — and on — their Arlington Woods Home.

Neither had any warning about a tornado.

"My husband never got the warning on his phone . . . a lot of people never got it. So, what's going to happen the next disaster?" she said.

Betty Rose says neither she nor her husband got an emergency alert on their phones and had no idea a tornado warning had been issued. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

In the 20 to 30 seconds when the tornado ripped through her neighbourhood, she said there wasn't enough time to get into their basement.

She also questioned the lack of communication from the city about what services were available to victims.

"We had no idea that the churches and whatnot had supplied emergency food and things like that for the community. For whatever reason we were sort of left out of that loop."

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has said having an older phone could be to blame for not receiving an alert and people should check the compatibility online.

The city has also admitted to a communication breakdown.

One resident told officials the city relied too much on radio and social media when people didn't have power and the elderly don't have access to Twitter or Facebook. They wondered why officials weren't going door-to-door to hand out information instead.

"It would have been nice if there was a little better communication that we could get out from the city on just exactly what was going on," said Ray Skrebutenas who isn't able to live in his Arlington Woods home because of the damage.

He said he saw a lot of city workers out in the days following the tornadoes, but there was no information on who could answer pressing questions.

Ray Skrebutenas says there was a lack of communication between the city and people who were affected by the tornadoes on Sept. 21. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Knoxdale-Merivale Councillor Keith Egli pointed out people should have battery-operated radios in case of an emergency. He said he's hoping to organize emergency information updates to be broadcast on a local radio station people can tune into once an hour.

Tree questions

Some residents also wondered how they could begin to rebuild their once tree-lined community.

Many of the trees in the neighbourhood were more than a century-old and defined the neighbourhood.

Rose lost a number of trees on her property and called it a massive loss.

The City of Ottawa said it plans to replant trees on city-owned property and told residents they're only removing trees deemed unsafe.

Asbestos worries

As Arlington Woods and Craig Henry begin to rebuild, public health officials say people should be wary of asbestos. Ontario only started phasing out asbestos insulation in the 1970s, said Martha Robinson, a program development officer and public health inspector with Ottawa Public Health.

"They could have insulation that does include asbestos, so the older homes should ask the question, is this a possibility?" she said.

"If you breathe in large quantities, it can get deep into your lungs and cause damage."

While she said the biggest risk is to people who often work around asbestos, rather than someone who comes across it outside, there are precautions people can take, including wearing an N95 respirator mask and making sure there's a tight seal around the nose and mouth.