Parts of Canada’s national capital were still reeling Saturday after a powerful tornado carved paths of destruction through residential neighborhoods – snapping huge trees, tossing cars and obliterating homes along its way.
The tornado inflicted heavy damage late Friday as it churned across pockets of Ottawa’s west and south ends, as well as densely populated sections of the neighboring Quebec city of Gatineau.
The storm’s bite continued to be felt across a wide swath of the region many hours later, with more than 150,000 customers still without power Saturday afternoon. Hydro Ottawa CEO Bryce Conrad compared the magnitude of the damage to the power grid to the debilitating ice storm of 1998.
The human toll was also significant. Authorities said dozens of people suffered injuries, however there were no reports of fatalities or of missing people.
The Ottawa Hospital tweeted that two people were in critical condition, one was in serious condition and two others were stable. Officials established shelters for those who couldn’t return home and they said crisis counselling would be available.
On the north side of the Ottawa River, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said more than 700 of his citizens were impacted by the storm and about 100 people took refuge in a shelter Friday night at a local college. More than 215 buildings suffered damage or were destroyed in his city – affecting a total of 1,686 housing units, he added.
In areas lashed by the tornado, scenes of the havoc were everywhere. The winds tore the roofs from numerous large buildings, bounced large sections of metal bleachers across soccer fields, knocked over hydro poles and cracked thick trees like twigs.
Much of Dunrobin, a semi-rural community about 35 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa, remained cordoned off by police Saturday afternoon after a second tornado touched down.
“It looked like it was something from a movie scene or a war scene,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told reporters Saturday recalling what he saw in the area of Dunrobin, where buildings were wiped out or partially destroyed.
“Literally, it looks like some bomb was dropped from the air.”
It was eerily quiet inside the police perimeter of one of Dunrobin’s most-damaged neighbourhoods – and only a few trees were still standing. Personal items were strewn everywhere – a baby blanket, a life jacket, mattresses, lawn mowers, a fridge, a kitchen sink lying on the grass and even a love seat wrapped around a telephone pole.
A car, windows shattered, lay on its side in front of a house. Fluffy, pink insulation – sucked out of ravaged homes – covered the neighborhood.
Looking at one house, the blue sky could be seen through an open door. Its roof had vanished.
Some houses had nothing left at all and lay flat on the ground, covering their vehicles.
Officials warned people not to re-enter their homes until they had been deemed safe as firefighters went door-to-door to determine whether structures were still sound. In Dunrobin, authorities said many buildings that had emerged from the tornado partially intact would likely have to be torn down.
Conrad informed people in the Ottawa area to brace for a multi-day power outage following what he described as a “cascading failure” of hydro resources.
“Last night’s storm was devastating to our electrical infrastructure, arguably as bad if not worse than the ice storm in 1998,” Conrad told reporters.
He said there were 200 separate outages across the Hydro Ottawa network and 147,000 customers without power. Hydro Ottawa only serves some of the people left without power because of the tornado.
Environment Canada confirmed Saturday that indeed a tornado struck the capital region. Meteorologist Simon Legault said there was evidence of powerful winds around 220 kilometres per hour, which would correspond with an EF2 category tornado.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would be visiting the Ottawa area on Sunday to commiserate and offer support. We are all waiting to see how much the Ontario Government will help because extreme weather events are becoming more frequent in our province.