Clean-up efforts underway in Gatineau after tornado

Crews in Gatineau are beginning to clean up after a powerful tornado touched down there Friday, damaging dozens of buildings and knocking out power to tens of thousands.

Mont-Bleu area experienced the most damage

Residents of the Mont Bleu neighbourhood of Gatineau, Que. began the process of cleaning up on Saturday, a day after a tornado and high winds swept through the Ottawa-Gatineau region. (Michel Aspirot/Radio-Canada)

Crews in Gatineau are beginning to clean up after a powerful tornado touched down there Friday, damaging dozens of buildings and knocking out power to tens of thousands.

The City of Gatineau has deployed almost 200 personnel to affected areas to secure them and assess the damage. 

The area near Mont-Bleu in the Hull sector suffered the greatest impact, with damage to 215 buildings and 1,686 housing units. 

Teams noted damage to buildings and trees, including 30 damaged or fallen streetlights and a few dozen traffic lights out of service.

Street cleaning operations have already begun. 

Firefighters and police are inspecting damaged areas. Due to the clean-up, Boulevard Saint-Joseph is closed to all traffic between Boulevard Mont-Bleu and the Jean-Proulx roundabout.

Video footage from Friday and Saturday shows damage to homes and structures after tornado rips through area 1:17

'I saw it face to face' 

Hundreds of people in Gatineau are searching for stable housing after their residences were damaged. 

"I almost died," Luclaire Loutangou told CBC News. "I saw it (the tornado) face to face."

Loutangou is staying in the emergency shelter set up by the municipality, but with a three-day limit she's not sure where her family will live long-term. 

David Brousseau Lambert is facing the same conundrum, as his apartment is currently uninhabitable.

He said he came home from work Friday and saw odd-looking clouds form over his building. Before long, it was "carnage."

Warning: Video contains strong language

WARNING: Raw footage of storm contains strong language. 0:56

"You kind of see it in the movies and on TV and you never think it's going to happen to you," he said.

"You don't know if it's going to kill you."

Red Cross, services respond

The city is working with partners, including the Red Cross, Gazifère, Hydro-Québec, the health and social services ministry and the STO, to respond to the disaster. 

A response centre has been set up in the Gabrielle-Roy Pavilion in the Cégep de l'Outaouais, located at 333 Boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes in Hull. More than 585 people have registered at the centre so far, and more than 200 have been assisted with housing. 

The centre is also offering counselling services.

A release from the city stated it is "premature" to begin thinking about volunteering, but a call will go out to citizens when a coordinated approach is arranged.

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to assist with relief efforts is asked to contact the Canadian Red Cross Society at 1-800-363-7305.

During the aftermath, the city highlighted several important safety tips:

  • If your home has been damaged, do not attempt to re-enter the premises unless emergency responders have indicated it's safe to do so. 
  • Avoid unnecessary movement in affected areas to allow teams to work to secure the streets.
  • Watch out for debris, such as glass or metal.
  • Do not touch any loose electrical wires.

Officials tour area

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was in Gatineau on Saturday morning to survey the damage. He announced he would suspend campaign activities to address the aftermath of the tornado.

"We are concentrating on people and getting people back home as soon as possible, as safely as possible," he told reporters.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux, right, travelled to Gatineau Saturday morning to tour the damage with Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (seen behind Coiteaux). (Radio-Canada/CBC Ottawa)

Quebec has contributed $1 million to the Canadian Red Cross for short-term aid, he said, and more money is on the way. He is urging citizens to donate as well.

Other Quebec party leaders are expected to visit the area over the weekend.

Gatineau's Mont0Bleu neighbourhood appeared to take the full force of the storm, which Environment Canada confirmed Saturday was a "high-end" EF-3 tornado — meaning wind speeds were as high as 265 km/h. Roofs were blown off several homes along Boulevard Cité-des-Jeunes.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin spoke with CBC's Alan Neal during a radio special on the storm Friday evening.

Areas in Ottawa-Gatineau hit hardest by storms on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (Canadian Press)

At the time, Pedneaud-Jobin anticipated 300 people would seek shelter, but he also expected the number could rise.

"Many houses will be damaged," he said. "It might be much higher than that."

The tornado also caused trees to be snapped or uprooted. Electrical transmission towers continue to be affected.

About 48,800 Hydro-Québec customers were also without power as of Saturday morning. 

You can report a power outage to Hydro-Québec  by calling 1-800-790-2424.

A full map of the outages in the Ouataouais region is available here.

Debris litters the lawn in front of an apartment complex in the Mont-Bleu neighbourhood in Gatineau. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC News)
Many cars, including this one, sustained damage from flying wreckage during the tornado. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC News)
Residents begin the clean-up process after a tornado hit Gatineau on Sept. 21, 2018. (Michel Aspirot/CBC News)