Struck by tornado 4 years ago, neighbours now cleaning up after derecho

·4 min read
Ann Baker's home on Aurora Crescent was hit by branches during the windstorm that hit Ottawa on May 21. It was also heavily damaged during the tornado in 2018. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)
Ann Baker's home on Aurora Crescent was hit by branches during the windstorm that hit Ottawa on May 21. It was also heavily damaged during the tornado in 2018. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)

As the sky darkened and the wind began to howl Saturday, Ann Baker was sprinkling holy water in her backyard and putting her faith in a small statue of the Virgin Mary.

There was a moment when branches were whipping around and the windows were so slammed with rain she couldn't see outside that she looked at her husband and thought, "Here we go again."

Four years ago a tornado tore along the hydro corridor behind her west Ottawa home on Aurora Crescent and, as if drawn to a magnet, sucked up a 12-metre-tall maple tree in her front yard, turning it into "match sticks" in a matter of seconds.

We're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. - Ann Baker

What was left of the tree smashed into the house where Baker has lived with her family for the past 35 years.

"It took out the roof, the chimney, the back deck and blew the furnace, and then cracked the foundation, and then we had a flood," she recalled on Wednesday.

The family faced tens of thousands of dollars in repairs not covered by insurance.

A large flower garden has since taken the tree's place, but amid the constant hum of generators and bundles of shattered branches stacked all around the street this week, the memories of 2018 remained vivid for residents.

The Manordale-Woodvale area was hit once again last weekend when a destructive, fatal derecho windstorm slammed into Ottawa, leaving tens of thousands in the city without power.

"I don't think I'm cursed or we're cursed," said Baker. "We're just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Despite being the target of tornadoes and wild winds, those living along Aurora Crescent say they don't plan to leave and credit their neighbours with giving them the strength to weather whatever comes their way.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

'Your neighbours are good neighbours'

Follow an extension cord snaking from Baker's garage and you'll find a generator running in Denise Haney's carport next door.

You know when they say lightning doesn't strike twice? Well it does. - Denise Haney

She's been there for 32 years, a tenure that includes the 1998 ice storm. When the tornado rushed by four years ago it took some of her lawn furniture with it. It did leave something behind — the top four-and-a-half metres of a tree punched through her roof.

This week's storm saw more tree damage and more battered lawn furniture, according to Haney.

"You know when they say lightning doesn't strike twice?" she asked. "Well, it does. We know that now."

In the aftermath of the storm the street came alive with neighbours pouring out of their homes to check on others and lend a hand, sharing chainsaws and generators, residents said.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

Haney said she has no plans to leave, despite being hit hard twice.

"[Storms] are scary but ... neighbourhoods make a big difference," she said. "If you're with ... people who help, that's what's really important right now."

Bob Scott lives a few doors down and remembers the tornado shaking the power lines, then roaring by with a sound like a transport truck.

He was largely spared in 2018, but the pile of tree limbs he's amassed now shows this storm was a different story.

A neighbour's tree split in half and crashed into his yard, and he lost a spruce tree in the backyard, but Scott counts himself lucky when it comes to cleanup.

"It was just sort of like a community effort ... and everybody trying to help everybody," he said.

"It gives you a good feeling of safety and your neighbours are good neighbours."

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

'Our own little insurance policy'

A massive maple tree still stands in Baker's backyard. It dropped a couple of branches on Saturday, which crashed into the new roof and deck built after the tornado.

There's a big dent in the railing, but that's the only real mark left by the derecho.

Despite all the family's been through, Baker has a secret weapon sitting below the tree that she trusts to keep them safe: the statue of the Virgin Mary.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

They're "blessed," Baker said, because while other trees were destroyed, that maple stood firm.

"I couldn't come up with rhyme or reason why, except the Virgin Mary protected it," she said.

"This is our own little insurance policy, and a great one."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting