Farms, communities in rural Ottawa area particularly battered by derecho storm

·4 min read
George Moffatt stands among the wreckage at his friend’s farm in the community of Cheney in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., on Monday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
George Moffatt stands among the wreckage at his friend’s farm in the community of Cheney in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., on Monday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

In rural southeast Ottawa and communities right next door, work is underway at many farms and homes to clean up the extensive damage wrought by Saturday's devastating derecho storm front, and the investigation continues into whether any tornadoes touched down.

Wyatt McWilliams was splitting wood on his horse and cattle farm in the rural Ottawa community of Navan on Saturday when his wife came outside to tell him about the severe thunderstorm warning alert broadcast on phones throughout the region just before the derecho moved through.

By then it "had gotten awful windy," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday, and he could hear thunder nearby.

A horse was standing just beside the barn. McWilliams decided to bring it inside and was almost inside the barn door when "all hell broke loose," he recalled.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

'A lifetime of work ... gone in less than 5 minutes'

"It was rain and wind and everything all hit us. And we just got inside the barn, then 10 seconds later everything just started to hit us as far as the debris flying and everything."

Their cement silo came down, the roof of the barn "is completely gone," and four sheds were destroyed.

"This is a lifetime of work, of building sheds and barns and whatnot, all gone in less than five minutes," McWilliams said, his voice breaking.

"Last fall we redid all the roofs on all my sheds, all the barns, and re-screwed everything. I had a couple guys hired that repainted everything. I thought I'd never have to touch anything again for my lifetime. But I guess my warranty's up, because everything is gone."

LISTEN | Wyatt McWilliams describes the storm and outpouring of support in rural Ottawa:

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Coun. Catherine Kitts of Cumberland ward — its new name is Orléans South-Navan — said the kind of damage seen at McWilliams' property occurred widely across Navan and Sarsfield.

"Farm properties, agricultural properties, were hit very hard in those areas," she told Ottawa Morning.

"It's a lot of destruction kind of everywhere you look."

State of emergency continues in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.

Saturday's storm cut across a wide swath of land in Ontario and Quebec, including the entire City of Ottawa and neighbouring Clarence-Rockland, Ont., an amalgamation of that city and rural communities to its south.

Clarence-Rockland declared a state of emergency on Saturday, which continues. Particularly hard-hit communities there include Hammond, Bourget, Clarence Creek and Saint Pascal-Baylon, according to Mayor Mario Zanth.

Zanth told Ottawa Morning he believes a tornado touched down, based on the "clear-cut" areas of damage he's seen.

"Obviously this hasn't been confirmed by Environment Canada, but when you're on scene you can actually see an actual path going through," he said.

Western University's Northern Tornadoes Research Project is continuing to assess whether any tornadoes occurred in the Ottawa area and near Toronto in Uxbridge, Ont., during the derecho.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

"It's probably easier for us to count the homes that have no damage than the ones that have damage," Clarence-Rockland fire chief Pierre Voisine told The Canadian Press while surveying wreckage in the rural community of Hammond on Monday.

The storm hit hard enough to reduce some homes to twisted piles of timber, while downed power lines and broken telephone polls are still blocking streets strewn with debris from uprooted trees and rubble from wrecked buildings.

Hammond resident Mijanou Guibord felt the devastation first-hand when the house she bought brand-new in December was destroyed by the high winds.

"I was sitting in the living room with my dog — he is a PTSD dog I got to help me after my house before was destroyed by fire — and I saw a red tin roof flying. I grabbed him by the neck and we ran downstairs," said Guibord on Monday as she looked on at what remained of her home.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

"All the windows were smashed in. I yelled out, 'Help me' from the basement. My neighbour kicked the doors in. The whole house was demolished. My car is still in there."

Dominic Couture, the neighbour who came to Guibord's rescue, said that while his house was only somewhat hit with a large dent on the side, the pickup truck he finished paying off four months ago was crushed.

"My truck was parked in the front of the house and I think it flew into the back," he said. "It's a Dodge Ram and it is demolished."

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press