People were picking up the pieces Sunday along the path taken by two devastating tornadoes that ripped homes to shreds, downed power lines and left thousands in blackout darkness across the capital region.
City officials, meanwhile, were pleading with people to stay home as the cleanup continues, while all schools in the Catholic and public boards were cancelled Monday.
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“With the (Monday) rush hour coming and more than 400 traffic signals without power, it could cause major traffic disruptions, so we are asking people, if they can, please stay home,” said Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services, who called for “patience and courtesy” from those who do venture out on the roads in the aftermath of the historic storm.
Amid the wreckage and the recovery efforts, harrowing stories of survival, and heart-warming tales of good will, were emerging.
Families had cowered in their basements and held their children close as the first twister touched down in Kinburn, striking a direct hit on Dunrobin just before 5 p.m. Friday, the last day of summer.
The tornado tore apart homes, uprooted trees and flattened barns, moving across the Ottawa River and through Gatineau Park before wreaking more destruction in the Mont Bleu neighbourhood of Gatineau.
Another powerful tornado blew through the region about 90 minutes later.
There were no fatalities and no reports of missing people, though several were hospitalized with injuries, including two admitted to The Ottawa Hospital in critical condition. In Gatineau, 14 people were taken to hospital.
With gale-force intensity — ranked as an E/F3 tornado on the zero to five Enhanced Fujita scale by Environment Canada, with wind velocity reaching up to 260 km/h — the tornado raged through the area, toppling buildings, ripping off roofs and smashing windows as streets were left littered with glass, bricks, cinder blocks and scattered lumber.
It was the first E/F3 tornado recorded in September in Canada since a twister in the Niagara region in 1898, Environment Canada officials said. The breadth of power outages quickly drew comparisons to the 1988 ice storm.
“It was a big tornado and very intense,” said meteorologist Peter Kimbell, who visited the devastated area.
The massive twister cut a swath one kilometre wide, travelling at least 40 kilometres before it finally lifted east of Autoroute 5 in Gatineau.
Many saw the storm’s violence from up close as numerous videos emerged on social media showing a black sky swirling with shingles, siding and other debris.
As many as 600 people were displaced from their homes in Gatineau, with families arriving by the busload to disaster centres. Some families were told it could be days before they could return to their homes. As of Sunday night, of the 212 buildings that were evacuated, residents were allowed to return to 153 of them.
More than 800 people in Western Quebec had already registered for assistance related to the storm.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard surveyed the damage in a tour of the region Saturday, while Premier Doug Ford visited the Ontario side Sunday. Both offered provincial assistance, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin to offer the federal government’s assistance to those in need.
Aid agencies worked tirelessly through the weekend on both sides of the river, where several families hit by the tornado said they were still reeling from the historic flooding that had hit some of the same areas just over a year ago.
The second tornado touched down near Highway 416 and tracked eastward across the Arlington Woods, Greenbank and Craig Henry neighbourhoods, leaving downed poles and live wires in its wake as winds demolished a key Hydro One transmission station on Merivale Road.
Here’s our complete tornado coverage.
That tornado was likely a “high E/F2” with wind speeds of 220-230 km/h, Kimbell said.
Mayor Watson said at a Sunday briefing that 51 homes in Ottawa were “decimated” or left in need of massive structural repair.
Hydro crews faced a daunting task. The Merivale station suffered a direct hit, toppling towers and snapping poles and power lines, plunging thousands of homes into darkness in the west and south ends of the city.
With the electrical grid gradually restored throughout the weekend, long lines of traffic formed around gas stations as frustrations boiled over.
Sunday began with about 80,000 homes still without power, and officials with Hydro Ottawa and Hydro One warned it could be several days before all the lights came back on.
By Sunday night, Hydro Ottawa reported there were still 70,000 people without power, and asked residents to remain patient as crews prepared to work late into the evening.
Officials pleaded with those whose power had been restored to conserve energy while crews diverted electricity to other pockets of the city.
As of Sunday, Nepean and Lincoln Heights remained the largest areas in the city affected by the blackout.
The electrical infrastructure in Arlington Woods suffered heavy damage in the storm, and officials said it would be at least another day before power was restored.
Residents in some of the hardest-hit areas warned against “gawkers” touring the streets to snap photos or to take in the damage first-hand. City officials echoed that concern and asked people to stay away.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it expects damage claims to be valued in the tens of millions.
“I’ve been doing damage surveys for roughly 20 years and this was one of the more complicated (weather) events, with multiple strong tornadoes and pockets of straight-line wind damage/downbursts,” said David Sills, an Environment Canada severe weather specialist and one of Canada’s leading experts on tornadoes.
“We’re still finding new tracks of damage, so the work is not over yet,” Sills said.
-with files from Blair Crawford, Liz Payne, Shaamini Yogaretnam
The Red Cross has established an Ottawa-Gatineau Appeal line for those who wish to donate at 1-800-418-1111.
The Salvation Army is asking for donations of household items, furniture and clothing.
The City of Ottawa asks residents to call 311 for transportation to an emergency shelter, if you have a failing medical device that needs charging or to report storm-related issues, including fallen trees.
People may call 613-239-4590 to find family members who have been displaced due to the tornado.
Call 911 for a medical emergency.
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