For 30 minutes, in the twisted metal wreckage of a flimsy shelter, Rick Coveyduck tried to revive the prostrate 11-year-old-boy.
"It was so devastating, trying to bring that boy back to life," Mr. Coveyduck, 57, told The Globe and Mail Friday of his attempts, along with the boy's mother, to perform CPR. "It was horrific. Devastating. Unexplainable."
The young camper, identified as Owen MacPherson, was the only direct casualty of a tornado that snaked a devastating path through Durham, Ont., tossing birds, people and cars like snow-globe confetti and leaving roofs ripped asunder, walls shredded and trees uprooted. It was one of an estimated four tornadoes to touch down across southwestern Ontario on Thursday, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
Police have declined to confirm the boy's identity
The 2,500-person town of Durham, a two-hour drive north of Toronto, was assessing the damage Friday, and cleaning up the mess.
The boy who died was one of 25 children enrolled in a week-long nature camp at the Durham Conservation Area on the Saugeen River just east of the town. It was 3:45 p.m., and parents were gathering for pickup time when winds and rain came. They moved to shelter - a white awning stretched over aluminum supports on a concrete foundation.
Mr. Coveyduck was in his van outside the gatehouse of the adjoining campsite, where he brings a trailer each summer, when he saw the massive, dark funnel cloud approaching. Within seconds, he was in the centre of it.
The wind lifted his van off the ground, spun it around and set it down again.
"You can't see anything but dust and debris," he recounted. "I opened my door and heard a burst of screams."
Steps away, dozens of hysterical children and adults were fleeing in all directions from the blasted shelter where one woman knelt over a small, motionless body.
"In the middle of this twisted piece of metal, I see this little boy lying on his face."
The boy had been struck in the face with flying debris. Mr. Coveyduck and the boy's mother tried to revive the child for nearly half an hour.
When paramedics arrived, one of them "put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'I'm sorry - the boy's gone.' [The mother]started bawling - she was just crying inconsolably."
Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority communication manager Shannon Wood said the organization, which hosts more than 7,000 campers in programs throughout the year, often cancels activities because of extreme weather. But because the tornado hit so late in the day and so quickly, that wasn't possible on Thursday.
Grey County Emergency Medical Services manager Mike Muir said other people suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were released from hospital by Friday morning. He said a coroner was investigating the boy's death. Authorities did not reveal his name at the family's request.
The conservation area was still closed late Friday afternoon, and OPP officers stationed at its entrance said it wouldn't reopen until after hydro workers fix fallen power lines.
Durham residents spent the day putting back together the pockets of the town devastated by the tornado. Siding flapped in the wind on rows of houses with blown-out windows and yards littered with insulation, shingles, scraps of all-terrain vehicles and broken umbrella tines. Smoke from brush fires permeated the air all afternoon as residents sawed and cleared away masses of debris from felled pines and cedars.
Keith Adams's four-year-old golden retriever, Jewel, wisely chose to sit the storm out inside. Mr. Adams almost wasn't so lucky.
"I didn't even see it coming. The power was out. I came outside to look at the rain coming down. ... I just had to fight to get back in the house. The wind kept pushing me back."
Mr. Adams's barn roof was lifted off and ripped to pieces that now lie tangled with the twisted branches of uprooted trees; the wind tore through his front door and turned his kitchen inside out; his windows are blown through and reduced to gaping shards.
Corey Harris was sitting at an intersection with his wife, Jamie Harris, and their six-month-old son, Robert, when they saw the funnel cloud coming at them, birds and branches swirling in the vortex.
"You could see clouds like streamers, going around in circles - they were all caught up in it."
Rod Piercey saw the funnel cloud coming from the office of Thuro Web, a print shop owned by Metroland, which runs several community newspapers in the region. He dove through the door, but by then the building was in the grips of the tornado.
"The roof came off and it was daylight, and then 30 seconds later, it was all over," he said. "It sounded like thunder, like a train, like bowling balls hitting each other."
He credited the sturdy printing press for saving the lives of his half-dozen co-workers trapped in the press room. The equipment itself may not be so lucky.
"The machinery can usually take a pretty good beat, but..."
Now, the 29-year-old building is a crumpled hulk - wooden beams splintered like gunwales, aluminum siding crushed, and tin roof off and askew. Its neighbours in Durham's industrial park fared little better: A nearby gym has been blown through completely. The Speke Klein furniture manufacturer next door is a shell.
Durham's acting mayor, Dan Sullivan, said Friday it's too early to tell how much the damage will cost the city and its residents, although it's likely in the tens of millions. At the end of the day Friday, crews were still assessing the degree of destruction.
Environment Canada geologist Peter Kimbell said Thursday's series of four tornadoes were the worst storm the province has seen since August, 2006, when 18 tornadoes touched down in southwestern Ontario.
By late afternoon Friday, 4,800 households outside the Greater Toronto Area were still without power, but Hydro One spokeswoman Daniele Gauvin said power was to be restored by midnight.
Mr. Sullivan said the town has been overwhelmed with offers of help: City staff are struggling to sort through the offers of labour or supplies that have poured in.
"At this point, I think, we're trying to make sure we plan our work. We're trying to allow some of our staff to get a bit of a breather. ... We're moving forward."
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