Beachburg -- It’s not the phone call any whitewater rafting tour operator wants to get. Staff informing you that your rafts are flying through the air, propelled by tornado-like winds, and being scattered across the water and adjacent land.
But that’s what Joel Kowalski experienced last week Tuesday, July 13, around 7 pm.
Mr. Kowalski, Wilderness Tours’ vice-president, was at his Grant Settlement Road home in Whitewater Region when staff called him to alert him of the mayhem happening only a few kilometers away. His residence is about halfway between his operation’s usual raft launching site just upstream from what paddlers know as McCoy Chute, and the company’s base and endpoint for their trips downstream.
“We have staff lodgings next to the put-in, and the staff staying there relayed the information,” he said. “Our entire raft fleet was in the air, blowing across the river. It was ‘all hands on deck.’ We launched our rescue boat, a Zodiac, to head out to retrieve the rafts.”
All this was happening while a severe electrical storm, with heavy rainfall, was raging.
“We were successful in finding all of the rafts,” he said.
Now all that remained was to deal with a tangle of fallen trees, some of them partly or completely in the water, and along with the branches, brush and other debris cluttering the waterway.
“Cedar Island, where the raft viewing area is located, is unrecognizable,” said Mr. Kowalski. “It, and Sullivan Island, the big island to the left of McCoy, have been completely levelled.”
The following morning, Wilderness Tours issued a warning for paddlers on their Facebook page, warning them to avoid the McCoy Chute area because of hazards resulting from a large amount of wood and other debris in the water.
Rafting trips weren’t cancelled, however, but launched from an area known as The Lorne, downstream from McCoy Chute.
“We’re back at McCoy today,” Mr. Kowalski said on Thursday. “We had a huge day yesterday with 30-plus people working; mostly our staff but also people from other rafting companies as well as people from the community.”
The trajectory of the storm was from west to east.
“It originated as a waterspout in the river in front of our put-in,” he said.
While there are numerous cottages and permanent residences in the vicinity, it appears the path of destruction avoided them.
CBC News reported on Friday that investigators with the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) at Western University have confirmed that the cone-shaped wind tunnel seen near Beachburg on Tuesday night was indeed a tornado.
“Storm trackers caught a video of clouds and winds spinning in a cone formation and it appeared to touch down near Beachburg, west of Ottawa,” said the report.
A team of investigators from NTP visited the site Thursday. David Sills, executive director of the NTP, said his team found a narrow path of damage that extends from the Ontario side of the Ottawa River to the Quebec side. It is about 5 km long and 400 metres wide.
“When we seen a long narrow track like that, that’s certainly tornado damage,” Mr. Sills was quoted as saying.
Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader