Growing up, Katrina Anderson helped her parents build their family farm in Kinburn, a small community in west Ottawa.
She eventually moved away but returned 20 years later, in 2010, to buy the property. After quitting her government job to begin farming full-time, she and her husband Chris spent the last six years building up the farm with more barns and fences, taking on cows, chickens and pigs.
This year, they were going to finally take a breather, Anderson said.
But on Friday evening, Anderson emerged from her basement with her husband and two children to find that a powerful tornado that ripped through the rural area had swept much of that work away, leaving her family homestead changed forever.
The 265 km/h winds lifted and dumped their massive metal storage shed, blew a hole in the pig barn, knocked down all the fences, destroyed the garage roof and shattered the front porch of their home.
“We looked up and the landscape was totally different,” Anderson recalled on Wednesday. “It’ll never be back to what it was before because we can’t rebuild it the way it was.”
As the shock of Friday’s violent twister and the severe damage it caused wears off, affected families like the Andersons are coming face-to-face with their new realities and the enormous amount of work left to do as they rebuild their lives.
Environment Canada confirmed the tornado was an EF-3 twister, the strongest of six to hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region on Friday night. It first touched down in the Kinburn area, before blazing through homes and power lines in Dunrobin, hopping the Ottawa River and devastating a densely-populated neighbourhood in Gatineau.
Collectively, the violent storms obliterated thousands of homes – dozens in Dunrobin alone – and caused hundreds of thousands of power outages. On Anderson’s farm, eight of the 11 structures on their property were wrecked – likely $200,000 worth of damage, she estimated.
With help from friends, the Andersons have managed to clean up a lot of the scattered debris over the past five days – plonking large sheets of tin into piles, taking a chipper to broken trees and collecting broken glass from the lawn.
But now comes a whole new wave of challenges: insurance, rebuilding and lost income. It’s hard “just figuring out where to start,” Anderson said.
She and Chris have to begin drafting a list of contents to claim through their insurance – a difficult task made all the more challenging because the tornado swept away so many things.
The list of repairs and disassembly is daunting. There’s still a metal bin – similar to a grain bin – and plenty of tin sheets left to retrieve from the sprawling fields. They’ve got to relocate their cows (a task delayed by this week’s rains), rebuild all their fences, repair the shattered front porch and replace the garage roof.
The smashed up, large metal bin – where they stored most of their farming equipment and tools – is a total write-off and not replaceable, so it has to come down, Anderson said. She has “no idea” how they’ll do it or what will take its place.
The destruction of their pig barn, however, might pose one of the greatest challenges because it will directly affect her income, Anderson said.
“I can’t raise pigs so … now I can’t even work for the next few months,” Anderson said. “It’s not what we’ve lost but what we’re going to lose too.”
Holding back tears, Anderson said she figures it will take at least a year for her and her husband to rebuild their beloved farm.
“It’s extremely overwhelming,” she said.
A ‘life-changing moment’
Anderson was outside with her husband and two kids last Friday afternoon observing the green-tinged sky and strong winds. They hadn’t seen or heard of a tornado warning.
Suddenly, one of her children pointed out a “funny-looking cloud” and Chris remarked that a funnel was taking shape. Within seconds, they saw the wind pick up trees and the neighbours’ barn and then the severity of the situation hit them, she said.
“When we noticed it was coming for us and we had to get in the basement, that was a very life-changing moment,” Anderson told Global News.
The family of four barely made it into the basement in time, hunkering down as the storm hit the farm. They heard the porch windows shatter upstairs. It was over in seconds, she said, and thankfully, no one was hurt.
But in a cruel twist of fate, the storm also claimed her husband’s childhood home. Chris learned from a friend hours later on Friday that his mother’s house in Arlington Woods had been severely damaged by another, slightly less powerful twister.
Anderson said her husband has been doing double duty this week, managing the cleanup efforts at the farm and at his mother’s house with help from his brother James, who came up from Whitby, Ont.
Like her and Chris, her mother-in-law is hanging in there, but these are tough times for the family, Anderson said.
“It’s pretty devastating,” she said. “But … James has been amazing, he’s here and he’s helping so much and he’s keeping everybody laughing.”
“It’s so great, the strength you can get from people.”
It’s the support of people, Anderson said, that has made all the difference in the chaos.
She expressed gratitude for the number of friends who have stepped up to help her family, either by dropping off meals, taking the kids, or assisting with cleanup efforts. She said she hopes to repay that kindness by making donations to other Dunrobin residents in need as soon as she gets the chance.
The Kinburn farmer encouraged anyone else struggling in the aftermath of the tornado to “accept help” from those who offer it, even if it’s hard to admit you need it.
“If someone wants to take your kids, let them. Let them help you because they’re what’s going to get you through,” she said. “Take every day at a time and just appreciate all that you have.”
Despite the magnitude of the task facing her family now, Anderson said she knows she has a lot to be thankful for.
“At the end of the day, some people don’t have their homes,” she said. “We’re really, really lucky.”