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Canada

Tornado aftermath Time to get community 'back up and running': emergency chief

She had been trying to race the tornado, but she didn’t make it.

An 18-year-old was headed to seek refuge in the basement of her family’s home in Dunrobin on Friday, but instead the blast from the storm’s 260 kilometre-an-hour winds blew out windows and tore through the structure. The woman was thrown down the basement stairs. When she landed, she had fractured ribs and a perforated lung.

The teenager, whose name has not been released, was one of two people critically injured when a pair of tornadoes tore across Ottawa and Gatineau on Friday, demolishing homes, buildings and power infrastructure.

On Monday, three days after she suffered the traumatic injuries, the young woman was released from hospital, said Anthony Di Monte, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services. Four people remained in hospital Monday, including one in critical condition.

He called it a miracle that no one died during the storms.

“I don’t know how we got through this without a fatality. It is miraculous.”

The teenager’s release from hospital was one piece of good news Monday as the city continued to recover from the storms. Another was the rescue of a family’s cat, found in the rubble of their Dunrobin basement three days after the tornado hit the hamlet in Ottawa’s rural west end. Until Monday, no one had been able to locate the pet.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette toured the damage in Dunrobin with Mayor Jim Watson.

While much of Ottawa was catching its breath Monday, crews of homeowners, family, friends, volunteers and workers in areas hard-hit by Friday’s tornadoes worked frantically to clean up and protect their properties ahead of heavy rain expected this week.

Many parts of the city were eerily quiet, with English public and Catholic board schools closed and residents asked to work from home while recovery continued. But in Dunrobin, Nepean and Gatineau, the areas that sustained the most damage when tornadoes ripped through the city, work continued unabated.

Di Monte said having quiet streets was helpful Monday, allowing work to be done to get intersections functioning again. “We didn’t want school buses on the roads with intersections not working, so Hydro did a great job overnight.”

By late Monday, 3,500 homes remained without hydro, a massive drop from 70,000 on Sunday and 170,000 Saturday.

For most of the city, it will be business as usual Tuesday for the first time since the tornadoes hit.

“The message is ‘Let’s get our community back up and running,’” said Di Monte. “I think it helps the people in the affected areas, too, that we get back to some normalcy. It is positive for the city and we are ready for that.”

In neighbourhoods that were damaged, however, the recovery and rebuilding work will continue for weeks and months.

In Dunrobin, families, helped by friends and volunteer skilled workers, sifted through rubble and got tarps over roofs to protect fixable homes from rain, which is expected Tuesday. Officials said they expect more than half of the hamlet’s 53 damaged homes will have to be rebuilt.

With heavy rain coming, city staff cleared debris from broken houses and cars from ditches in an effort to prevent flooding.

Logistics include picking up garbage, making sure recovered items are displayed at the reception centre so people can find their things, getting running water for nearly 400 volunteers and making sure people who have offered their help continue to register at West Carleton Secondary School so organizers can deploy them where they are needed.

In Gatineau, many residents of more than a dozen low-rise buildings in the Mont Bleu neighbourhood badly damaged in the tornado, were gathering belongings.

The tornado left hundreds of people from the neighbourhood homeless. Many stayed in shelters staffed by the Red Cross at the Cégep de l’Outaouais on Cité-des-Jeunes Boulevard over the weekend but had moved on to stay with friends and family.

In the hard-hit Arlington Woods neighbourhood off Greenbank Road, which took the brunt of a second tornado, the sound of chainsaws was deafening as residents and workers dealt with what remained of the 150-year-old white pine forest for which the neighbourhood is named. Hundreds of the six-storey trees crashed onto houses and through roofs. At one home, a tree had to be pulled through the living room window, where it had landed.

Late Monday, The Weather Network was reporting that Environment Canada had confirmed a third, weaker, tornado hit the White Lake area on Friday.

Volunteers, including students who had an impromptu day off, helped make sandwiches at Parkdale Food Centre; others brought food to seniors who had been unable to leave darkened apartments for days.

Members of the province’s emergency medical assistance team arrived in Ottawa to help public health workers with emotional needs resulting from the tornadoes and their aftermath.

with files from Joanne Laucius, Tom Spears, Shaamini Yogaretnam

epayne@postmedia.com

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