Dunrobin tornado victims still awaiting provincial relief

Six months after tornadoes ripped through Ottawa, only seven of 111 victims who applied for financial aid through an Ontario disaster relief program have received any money. 

Six tornadoes tore through the Ottawa-Gatineau region on Sept. 21, 2018, destroying thousands of homes, felling countless trees and causing widespread power outages.

According to Ontario's ministry of municipal affairs and housing, people who applied for relief through the disaster recovery assistance for Ontarians program by the Jan. 21 deadline are being paid as quickly as possible, but only some applicants meet all the eligibility criteria.

More than $135,000 has been reimbursed in total so far, the ministry said. But most applicants haven't seen a dime, frustrating many residents.

Cindy Berry, whose home was hit by the tornado, said she's been told she may not qualify for funding because she's not a full-time farmer or business owner. She does both part time. Berry said she can't apply for unemployment insurance either because she owns a business. 

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Berry said she's still waiting on her insurance claims before she can finalize her provincial application. 

"I have to do all the insurance stuff first," she said. "The paper work should be a lot easier. [Funding] should be available immediately because the expenses are immediate."

Growing frustration

Berry estimates she's out $200,000 from tornado damage, and doesn't know if her insurance will cover all her losses — such as replacing the topsoil filled with glass so her horses can return. 

"If [the provincial government] gave you the money and it turns out your insurance paid it, then you can reimburse them back … You shouldn't have to wait until your insurance is depleted before you get any funding from the government, especially if they've got a pot to share," Berry said. 

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Most people impacted by the tornadoes have coverage, but those lacking sufficient insurance to cover essential costs can be eligible for up to $250,000 from the program, the ministry said.

"Eligible applicants can receive financial assistance for emergency expenses and costs for repair or replacement of essential property that is not covered by insurance," wrote ministry spokesperson Rachel Widakdo in an email.  

Program needs fixing, councillor says

After the tornadoes, Premier Doug Ford said the province would do whatever to help ensure residents' recovery, but Berry said she feels forgotten by the government. 

'Why is it so hard to get?' — Cindy Berry

"Why did you come out and say that there was money and there really isn't any money?" Berry asked. "Or if there's money, why is it so hard to get?" 

The city councilor for the area, Eli El-Chantiry, said the province's program for disaster assistance should be updated. 

"This funding was established in the fifties or in the late forties, and it has not been reviewed. As you can see, the application is still hard to follow," El-Chantiry said.

El-Chantiry said the way the provincial program works is people have to pay up front and then be reimbursed. 

"The most burden is you have to spend the money to receive it back or to be compensated and that sometimes is hard, and they don't cover everything." 

El-Chantiry said a meeting has been set with the area's local MPP to address the issue. 

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"We need … that part of the process to be expedited," he said. 

To date, the City of Ottawa has received funding of $1.5 million from the Ontario government for recovery efforts. The city said it has spent $778,000 on recovery measures, including removing downed trees from private properties, the rehabilitation of parks and public spaces, as well as the removal and crushing of trunks, stumps and branches. 

A community meeting, something that has been happening regularly in West-Carleton, is planned for next week for people who have been affected by the tornado. El-Chantiry said the West Carleton Disaster Relief group is still there for anyone who needs support, which the community is grateful for, but ultimately people just want to be back in their homes as soon as possible.