An Ottawa-area couple’s plans to show their home to potential buyers were dashed on Friday when a tornado swept through the neighbourhood, levelling their house and leaving only half the structure still in place.
Ben and Jess Rousseau told Global News they were returning home for the real estate showing when they saw the devastation.
“The feeling of coming home and seeing nothing. Flattened, you’re shaking,” Ben said. “I almost threw up when I saw the damage.”
The Rousseaus’ home was one of many left in pieces after a powerful EF-3 twister tore through the Ottawa neighbourhood of Dunrobin, pummelling the area with wind speeds of up to 265 km/h.
The tornado blew through parts of south- and west-end Ottawa, where Dunrobin is located, before continuing into densely populated areas of Gatineau, Que.
Many hours later, more than 150,000 Hydro Ottawa customers were still without power, while the company’s CEO, Bryce Conrad, compared the event to the ice storm of 1998.
Two people were in critical condition after sustaining injuries during the tornado, with one in serious condition and two others stable, according to Ottawa Hospital.
In Gatineau, Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said more than 215 buildings were damage or destroyed, including a total of 1,686 housing units. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said about 60 buildings were wiped out or partially destroyed in Dunrobin.
That number includes the Rousseaus’ home, where they had lived since 2011.
The couple was thankful their two children had not been home when the tornado hit, instead staying at their grandparents.
Power and phone lines were down, meaning the family could not contact insurance companies, leaving them unsure what to do.
WATCH: People pick up the pieces after Ottawa-Gatineau tornadoes
Jess said that when they got home, Ben checked on their neighbours before assessing the aftermath.
“That’s the second floor in the driveway; there used to be a garage. ” Ben said, pointing out parts of the wreckage. “Our daughter’s bed and our son’s crib is on the front lawn. It’s unrecognizable. I don’t know half of this stuff.”
There was even a chair that Ben said he would sit in with his son in the boy’s bedroom.
Tornadoes can happen in Canada in September, but the two that hit Ottawa and Gatineau still appeared to catch people off guard because tornado season peaks in July, according to a Global News meteorologist.
This is why, Ben said, he didn’t expect this kind of destruction to happen.
“I laughed at the tornado warning,” he said. “Who thinks that there’s going to be a tornado?”
WATCH: Officials provide updates on Ottawa-Gatineau tornadoes
Ben’s thoughts were echoed by others in the community, as hundreds of people were left picking up heirlooms and other valuables from the rubble left behind.
Only a few trees were left standing in one of Dunrobin’s most damaged neighbourhoods, with everything from a baby blanket to a kitchen sink being found on the ground. Car windows were shattered, some trees were even lying on top of vehicles and one car was on its side in a tree.
A day later, Ben’s mother and father, Olwen and Ken, came by to try and salvage anything they could find to comfort their grandchildren.
“I picked up this book — Think of Those in Need — of all books to pick up, by the corner of the house where I found some of their clothes,” Olwen said.
Business owner Judith Bowen, along with customers and staff of the Heart of the Valley gift shop, were helping to clean up.
“It’s just…I’m sorry, I don’t even know what to say,” Bowen told Global News.
WATCH: Coverage of the Ottawa-Gatineau tornadoes
On Saturday night, Ontario announced that it was activating the province’s Disaster Recovery Assistance program in areas affected by the storm, which will allow eligible businesses and individuals to receive help with emergency and recovery expenses.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Sunday while visiting Dunrobin that the incident was heartbreaking and the provincial government would help however possible.
“We will spare no resources in this province,” he said. “We will spare no expense to get people’s lives back up and running.”
As of Sunday morning, more than 70,000 people were left without power. Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, said this is partly due to a major power plant being knocked out in the storm.
— With files fromGlobal News’ Mike Le Couteur and The Canadian Press