50 homes damaged but no injuries reported after tornado hits Ottawa suburb

50 homes damaged but no injuries reported after tornado hits Ottawa suburb
Helen Feltham, 82, is helped from her home by her daughter and granddaughter after it was damaged by a tornado in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven on Thursday, July 13, 2023.

Environment Canada confirmed at least one tornado hit the Ottawa area just after noon on Thursday, damaging several dozen homes in a city suburb.

Nicholas DeFazio, a spokesman for Ottawa Fire Services, said there were no injuries from the tornado, which damaged about 50 homes in the south-end Barrhaven neighbourhood.

Monica Vaswani, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada, said additional funnel clouds have been reported but only one tornado had been confirmed as of 3:30 p.m. ET.

The community is about 22 kilometres south of Parliament Hill in the city’s rapidly growing south end. The streets hit feature detached homes and townhouses built in just the last few years.

Vaswani said the tornado has been confirmed through videos posted to social media that show debris being “lofted and rotated.”

An expert from the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University in London, Ont., is heading to the area to help determine the speed of the tornado, she said.

Laurie Gillespie told The Canadian Press that her 82-year-old mother and her sister were at the home they share on Watercolours Way when her sister noticed a storm coming in and stepped outside to pull in a chair so it wouldn’t blow away.

“Just as she came back inside, the back window blew in and the screen came flying across the room and landed at my mother’s feet,” said Gillespie.

The home, which Helen Feltham has lived in for three years, sustained significant damage. The windows in the living room, bathroom and bedroom all blew in, strewing glass everywhere, while much of the roof was torn off.

“The curtains on the bathroom window were sucked right out and they ended up on the roof,” said Gillespie, who was not at the home at the time.

She said she lives about 15 minutes away and drove over as soon as she got the call that the storm had happened. By the time she got there, the streets were already flooded with emergency responders and even a representative from the developer that is building homes in the neighbourhood.

He was comforting her mother, holding her close and gently telling her it was over.

“She is extremely shaken,” said Gillespie, who brought her mother away from the area to her own home.

Gillespie said there is damage for about a two- to three-block radius around her mother’s home. Some roofs were ripped apart, and foam blocks used as insulation in the attics exploded.

“It was literally snowing Styrofoam outside,” she said.

There are also many downed trees and some damaged hydro poles in the area.

On Wednesday, Environment Canada warned that Thursday’s weather could bring the possibility of severe thunderstorms that could produce tornadoes. At 12:28 p.m., the weather agency issued a tornado warning for a large swath of eastern Ontario.

Gillespie said the tornado hit her mother’s home sometime between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m.

Emergency alerts were issued by the cell phone network at around 12:49 p.m.

Ottawa police asked individuals to avoid the Barrhaven area and stay away from downed power lines. Firefighters visited about 100 homes to check on the well-being of occupants and shut down gas lines and electricity for safety reasons.

Hydro Ottawa said on Twitter that more than 1,600 homes and businesses were without power Thursday afternoon. It said power in the neighbourhood was expected to be restored by 7 p.m. ET.

“This incident has a large footprint and officers and partners are working diligently to assist everyone needing help,” Ottawa police said on Twitter shortly after the storm hit.

A family reunification centre was established at a nearby recreational complex, but it did not appear to be needed.

Police and journalists took cover there when a second tornado warning was issued for the area at around 2:45 p.m., but no other residents were spotted.

Ottawa has been hit with a string of severe storms in recent years. In September 2018, six tornadoes touched down in several places in the Ottawa area as well as across the river in Gatineau, Que.

Dozens of homes were damaged and 25 people were injured. One tornado struck a city power station cutting power to about half the city’s homes, some for several days.

In May 2022 the city was hit hard by a derecho, a long straight line of storms with winds often in excess of 100 km/h, that damaged dozens of homes and toppled power lines like matchsticks. Power outages again stretched across large swaths of the city and some weren’t restored for several weeks.

Mia Rabson and Liam Fox, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2023.

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