Ottawa; What it's like to survive an EF3 Tornado

The EF-3 tornado that touched down here last week was very close to us and was one of 6 confirmed tornado’s around Ottawa-Gatineau.

The one that hit West Carleton and Gatineau was the strongest in the group with frightfully destructive winds of up to 260 kms an hour.

53 homes were damaged in West Carleton, mostly Dunrobin, and to date; 30 of them are damaged beyond repair.

It’ll be a long road back and this is going to take many months, if not years, to put back together.

It was the last full day of summer; one of the best summers we’ve had in a long time.

With exceptionally warm weather this late in the summer, it wasn’t surprising to see the prediction of a cold front and the potential of some serious rumbling between the two fronts.

They’re like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. They don’t get along.

Friday (the 21st of September) was more like a day we’d see in mid-August; breezy and warm, almost 40 with the humidex.

It was also turning out to be a really fun day on the air.

Between Tim Morgan and I, for the first time in our relatively new contest “Every Second Counts,” we had given out $1,000 every chance we had. We essential ran the table with winners maxing out.

Radio people love to give out money.

And then the warnings began to sound.

16 year old Erin Skinner was trying to grab a nap on the couch in the living room, on the main floor of their 3 bedroom bungalow on Galway, which is just off of Porcupine Trail in Dunrobin.

Porcupine is one of the main roads that leads to a couple of little bedroom communities on each side of Dunrobin Road.

Dunrobin is nothing more than a small 4 corner hamlet with about 1,000 people living in it with the focal point being the one and only commercial mall that houses Dunrobin Meat and Grocery.

It’s a family run general store that has been the center of this small farming community since 1989.

My wife calls them the “butcher, baker and candlestick makers.”

It is also where we most often buy our beer and wine. So, like, important eh.

Charles Delahunt started the business, and his two daughters Cindy and Julie run it along with Julie’s hubby Mike Fines.
Everyone knows them, everyone likes them and charity and giving have played a big part in their lives.

They are real community people.

Erin couldn’t sleep and had a view from the couch to out the back of her home, the opposite side of the tornado’s steady approach. It was moving from the west at about 60 kms an hour.

First It had briefly touched down in Calabogie, crossed the 17 and then continued on through another small little village called Kinburn, along the Kinburn Sideroad.

The first videos and pictures on twitter started to pop up on social media of the funnel cloud that some motorists had documented in the region of Kinburn Farms with Katrina Anderson.

It was about 4:40 that Erin Skinner started noticing debris flying through the air, and as she got up off the couch to have a look her mother Tracy, and father Todd yelled at her to follow them, with the family dogs Tyson & Jersey, down to the basement.

They didn’t make it.

The door blew open, the windows blew out and the roof was starting to get torn off. The only thing they had time to do was to take cover in a bedroom until it passed only seconds later.

Just seconds before, the Tornado had laid waste almost everything it encountered once it touched down after coming into the back side of Dunrobin, through the often golden farmers’ fields that surround it.

Just before the Skinner’s house, the monster from the sky jagged just a little to the right, probably saving the Skinner’s from complete destruction.

It then it set its sights on our general store on the other side of Dunrobin Road.

Back at the station it wasn’t too surprising when the “Tornado Watch” first landed. It came without the on-air emergency alert, and we had seen them a couple of times before this summer.

It was only a ‘watch’ after all.

Nonetheless, I knew my kids where at the Carp Fair enjoying the rides, which is a West Carleton tradition. When the 155 year old Agricultural Fair opens in rural west Ottawa in mid-September, the kids always flock in to take advantage of the half price carnival rides.

When we first arrived in Ottawa, almost 10 years ago, we couldn’t believe our ears.

Parents actually let their kids skip a school day, for carnival rides?

“What’s wrong with these people?”

And the school is ok with it too? Legit?

Hey, when in Rome…you know the saying. We now do it as a matter of course.

Carp Fair Tornado Relief

So I texted my wife, who had dropped them off and was out working and showing real estate and I texted the kids at the Fair to warn them of impending weather.

Like many, they apparently met my warning with indifference. Tornado Warnings didn’t scare them anymore; they were with the friends and they were having fun.

I have a feeling people will pay a lot more attention to “Tornado Warnings” around here now. I know my kids will.

They didn’t bother taking my advice and joining up with their sisters “to stay together” as I had requested.

It was in the 4 o’clock hour that the Tornado “Watch” was upgraded to a “Warning” which basically means it’s not just a remote possibility, it’s more of a probability.

I looked at the radar and it showed lines of thunderstorms that angled down from the north, through Eastern Ontario and all the way into the States.

The cells of the storms inside those lines were bright red and ominous looking.

It was the highest level of alert. The skies were seen swirling almost everywhere the storm threatened.

The radar was predicting an approximate 5-7 pm arrival.

I texted them again and told them to get together, and I asked my wife to go and pick them up before 5.

My youngest, Avery, who is 11, left with friends’ parents and the other two waited on mom.

By then the winds were picking up and were consistent and constant. The skies out to the west were starting to bowl around Nepean, darkening and building all around us.

Again, it was impossible not to notice that swirling effect in the sky.

Jamie Cronk (DJ Jamie C.), joined me in the studio for our regular 3 hour “Friday Night Kitchen Party” at 5 and upon his arrival told me that lights were already out around the city and people were having a hard time with it.

As soon as the “Kitchen Party” part of my show started, I saw the tweet that showed a funnel cloud approaching from Kinburn.

This is only miles from where we live.

Then the phones started to light up.

First it was a man from Gatineau that claimed they had been hit by a “tornado” and that buildings were flattened and that debris was scattered everywhere.

And then we heard from Dunrobin, where we just happen to make our home. The local restaurant and general store had been hit and badly damaged.

Now we’re just 1 concession away from home!

And then another call from Dunrobin. It was bad; a boat had been ripped right off the back of a truck trailer and launched into the air, over a building and out of sight.

A local farmer I know called and told me “this is bad, trees are snapped in half like toothpicks, all of them!”

Then another, “The Heart & Soul Restaurants” gift shop yurt was completely destroyed and Jim and Jody Bowen had lost their store, again. And the Dunrobin Store….took it right in the teeth!”

Heart and Soul Cafe & Heart Of The Valley Gifts

 

 

When the storm hit the store, Mike Fines rushed some customers into his beer fridge, while Cindy ran others into one of the offices in the back. Shari Rochon, a local hockey mom had just entered the store to get her son an ice cream cone.

Unfortunately her timing couldn’t have been worse.

She remains in serious condition in hospital after being impaled by a stick as her horrified son watched from the car.

Another legendary local farmer, 78 year old Leo Muldoon, whose family had farmed their land on Dunrobin Road for over 150 years, was up on the barn or on a ladder trying to get something in order when he was pitched into the air as his old barn came crashing down all around him.

His wife Adele, a former area school teacher, and well-known local advocate, found him, along with a neighbor, on the ground with broken ribs, a back injury and collapsed lungs.

Leo remains in hospital also at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital, and we wish Shari and Leo all the best in their recoveries.

Now I’m worried. I really should be at home making sure everything is ok my own family.

I text and I call and I find out that Avery was at home alone!

My wife Trisha Syrowy was still trying to get back from the fair, and had been diverted by a call from Erin who was crying and traumatized and just wanted out of there.

It was a nightmare, and Erin wanted to get off.

Trish made a quick detour to somehow go and pick her up so her parents could concentrate on what just happened — and not have to worry about her also.

They found her walking down the road as they came in from the backside of town on Thomas Dolan Parkway.

Amazingly, as 53 dwellings, many century old brick farm houses were being flattened or battered by this EF-3 Level Tornado — just 1 mile up the road, Avery sat in our basement basically unaware of any trouble as she watched her favorite show on Netflix, until the power went out.

An EF-3 Level Tornado is a Texas Twister and the type of Tornado often seen in Oklahoma and Tornado Alley.

The storm was moving about 60 kms and hour, was approximately 350-400 meters wide and packed winds of 260 km’s an hour.

Structures cannot withstand a direct hit. Trees get twisted like cork screws.

On their way home with Erin in the van and heading back towards our place on Old 2nd Line, Trish noticed the extra traffic on our little side road. That’s never a good sign. It’s usually because of a bad accident on Dunrobin Road that they divert traffic our way, “this can’t be good.”

It wasn’t, Dunrobin Road was already closed and countless emergency vehicles flooded our little town.

It was a very hectic show. I was uptight and I was trying to help get any bit of news out there for our listeners.

When 8 o’clock finally came, I jumped in the van and tried to get back as soon as I could. All the lights were out at every intersection thus slowing things done and backlogging vehicles.

When I finally got to Dunrobin Road 45 minutes later, there wasn’t any damage at all, only dark streets greeted me as I turned from March onto Dunrobin like I’ve done a thousand times before.

Then I got to the road closure at Constance Lake Road. All traffic was being diverted, and no one was being allowed into Dunrobin.

I finally pulled into my driveway and there were 3-4 other cars there that I wasn’t used to seeing, and a crowd sitting on our front porch.

Erin’s parents, and extended family, had breathlessly converged at our place and they were making arrangements and discussing what to do next.

Their garage had collapsed on-top of their prized motorcycles. Their camper had been flipped into the neighbor’s yard, and the roof and windows were all heavily damaged.

We laughed at the realization that they received the Tornado Warning on one of their phones, 4 minutes AFTER the Tornado decimated Dunrobin!

As we were expected back in our hometown of Brantford for my father-in-laws 80’s birthday celebration, the plan had been to leave that night. We offered the Skinner’s our home, but since we didn’t have any power, they thought a hotel would be a better option.

We did end up heading out a few hours later, arriving at my brothers Mount Pleasant farm at about 4:30 am.

It was one of those emotionally exhausting days, and we weren’t even in the eye of the storm.

Erin is now staying with us and her parents are staying down the road at friends. Their house was “red-carded” meaning it is not habitable and will probably be razed.

My wife is now assisting them in finding their family temporary lodging. They won’t be spending Christmas at home this year.

Tracy Skinner, Erin’s mom, said it best in a now familiar refrain heard often around here these days; “We are just happy everyone is ok. We didn’t get a scratch. The rest can be replaced.”

If you look at all that damage, it’s nothing short of a miracle really.

How can you help?

The specialized volunteers that the city enlisted are finishing up and they’ll need manpower coming up in the next couple of days to start really cleaning up debris.

There is so much of it.

So you don’t need special skills, but if you are good with a chainsaw, they’d love to see you. Lots of fallen trees everywhere.

You can go to West Carleton High School on Dunrobin to register or email emergencyvolunteers@ottawa.ca

For donations; it’s the RED CROSS, the SALVATION ARMY and the OTTAWA FOOD BANK

There’s also the Kanata Food Cupboard at 613-355-9834.

They are at 340 Leggett (Unit 46)

Officials from Hydro, the City, the Red Cross and the Insurance Bureau are there to talk at several locations including West Carleton High, the Nepean Sportsplex, Greenboro Community Center, and the Centre Du Communitaire Pere-Arthur-Guertin on Beriault.

I believe councilors are on hand, or can be arranged, if people need to talk.

This is the tough time, the shock wears off, and the enormity of it all can come crashing in.

Experts can help! Once again email the city,

Or go to one of these Communication Command Posts.

Please join us in our boom 99.7 initiative for the Ottawa Food Bank.

Here at boom, we have teamed up with Sleep Country Canada and the Ottawa Food Bank to host a Food Bank fundraiser to help after the Tornado.

We will be at the Sleep Country at 4335 Strandherd Drive on Thursday October 4th from 5p-8p collecting non-perishable food items and cash for the Ottawa Food Bank.

Half of Ottawa lost power for over 3 days, meaning most of their perishable foods, such as meats and milk had to be thrown out. If you are a family of 4, throwing out hundreds of dollars’ worth of food can be really hard on your budget. And reaching out to the Food Bank isn’t an option, because they also had to throw out a lot of their food. Add in that it’s the Thanksgiving long weekend, already a busy time for them, and things are NOT good.

@OttawaFoodBank

My personal promise to our neighbors and friends, in these communities that have been so deeply affected — is that I will stay on this story, start to finish.

Please follow future blogs and “Off the Mic” Podcasts at boom997.com as I continue to follow the road to recovery for all of our victims.

Email me at gonzo@boom997.com (gonzo_jon on Twitter) for any submissions or fundraisers that you would like me to broadcast, or assist in.

#donrobinstrong

 

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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