Southern Ontario residents will today begin picking up the pieces after a devastating thunderstorm rolled across a large stretch of the province last night, producing several tornadoes that destroyed homes, tore up roofs, flipped vehicles and left at least one person dead.
At one point, Environment Canada had issued a tornado warning extending 500 kilometres between Peterborough and Windsor. The storm, and the occurrence of multiple funnel clouds, is considered a rare occurrence in the region. Recorded winds topped 80 kilometres an hour, but are expected to have been much higher where the tornadoes touched down.
Homes across the Toronto area were damaged, but the heart of the devastation was in Durham, Ont., a small town of 2,500 just south of Owen Sound and about two hours northwest of Toronto. Police in the town told residents last night that one person had died when a tornado went through a conservation area.
In the town, a printing company and a recreation centre were destroyed. In the surrounding area, age-old barns were levelled and homes damaged.
"I don't know what we're going to do. You can't clean it up," said Marg Eckhardt, who lost most of her home, all of her barn, and a Toyota Tundra truck, which had a large tree on it last night. "I'm upset, hungry, tired."
Doug McLean watched from the back door of his hardware store as the two buildings directly behind him were destroyed.
"I saw the building behind me, the roof went straight up about 15 feet and came straight down," he said. "It was just total devastation.
"The wind was just phenomenal. The doors of my store were just spread open ... one of my kids was trying to close the door with all his might and he couldn't. ... It's hard to believe."
The same storm system continued northeast, hitting the Collingwood, Ont., area and causing damage to homes and condominiums at the base of the Georgian Peaks ski club, as well as to trees. Damage to homes and barns was also reported in nearby rural areas.
"Certainly there's significant damage. Lots of trees are down, hydro lines and poles are snapped in half," said Ellen Anderson, mayor of The Town of The Blue Mountains. However, she said there were no serious injuries or deaths in her community.
"On the scale of life and death, it [the damage]doesn't measure up. I think we're very, very fortunate. It could have been a lot worse."
A tornado was reported about two hours later in the City of Vaughan, north of Toronto and 200 kilometres away from Durham. It appeared to be centred in the area of Highway 7 and Martin Grove Road. Photos from the site of the Vaughan storm showed many homes where the roof had been damaged, or collapsed entirely.
The City of Vaughan declared a state of emergency last night, which allows it to call in help from Emergency Management Ontario. The city said about 120 homes, mostly in its communities of Maple and Woodbridge, were damaged or destroyed. Some homes also were evacuated in Vaughan. Residents were able to go to the Father Ermanno Bulfon Community Centre on Martin Grove Road last night for shelter.
"They're saying that several houses have been demolished, cars overturned," York Regional Police Sergeant Mike Sterchele said of his officers' reports from the scenes of the damage. "We haven't heard of any fatalities, but obviously with the damage and cars being overturned there are injuries."
Another tornado was reported in Newmarket, but damage was said to be much less than in Durham or Vaughan, where police got a first-hand account as the funnel cloud passed their station.
"It passed just south of our parking lot. The standard tornado, the dark funnel cloud, it was moving at quite a speed. Then it would dissipate and come back again," Sgt. Sterchele said. "Several areas have been hit very hard."
Hydro One said it had 63,000 customers without power last night, while Toronto Hydro said it had widespread outages and couldn't say how many people were affected. Trees were knocked down across the entire path of the tornado, from otherwise-unaffected parts of Toronto to the hardest-hit areas in Durham and Vaughan.
The tornadoes are considered "possible tornadoes" by Environment Canada until the agency's staff can actually survey the damage. Geoff Coulson, a warning- preparedness meteorologist, said teams would be dispatched to Durham and across the Greater Toronto Area today.
"We'll be trying to piece this together," he said.
He said the storm was rare in the Toronto area, and that it was unusual to see multiple funnel clouds. Once teams survey the damage, they'll be able to say what category the tornadoes were. Most Southern Ontario tornadoes are F0 or F1 storms - F5 being the strongest - but last nights' could possibly have been as high as an F2, which see wind speeds of between 180 and 240 km/h, Mr. Coulson speculated.
Storms of this scale are rare in the region, he said.
"I think it's been a while in the GTA in the immediate area with this number of potential tornadoes," he said. "The frequency in the GTA would not be something I'd be seeing every year."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper extended his well-wishes to those who were injured or had seen their property damaged, and hinted at his government lending a hand to the rebuilding efforts.
"They [tornadoes]are extremely destructive in the areas they hit and obviously we share our thoughts and prayers with any who have lost lives or had dislocation because of this," he said during an event in Yellowknife, NWT.
DAMAGE AROUND THE GTA
Flooding trapped streetcars on their tracks along Lake Shore Blvd. for up to 20 minutes.
Downsview subway station closed for 80 minutes.
Union Station tunnel flooding stalled streetcar routes 509 and 511.
Pearson International Airport
More than 40 flights were cancelled and 100 delayed.
Localized flooding along Lake Shore slowed down traffic and transit.
York police expected injuries after a funnel cloud hit Vaughan, Ont., tossing cars and damaging other property
Outages were scattered in pockets throughout Toronto due to downed power lines. Blackouts left Toronto Hydro emergency workers scrambling.
Across Southern Ontario 63,000 Hydro One customers were still affected hours later. Walkerton and Owen Sound lost power first at 7 p.m., with outages north up to Muskoka, south past Guelph and 24,000 affected in Bowmanville and Peterborough.
Toronto Hydro customers that are without power or see damaged power lines or poles can call 416-542-8000. Hydro One customers should call 1-800-434-1235.
What steps should homeowners take when documenting damage?
Personal safety is the first thing to watch for, according to Jim Haskins, executive vice-president claims and procurement with Aviva Insurance. Dangers include downed electrical lines, gas fumes or food spoiled. People should contact insurers immediately to find out the details of their coverage and to ensure claims are dealt with quickly.
Begin to document items obviously damaged inside and outside the home by writing careful notes and taking pictures. Documentation such as receipts is not required but can speed claims.
What are common types of damage after a violent storm?
Homeowners should walk around their basements, looking for leaking or standing water, and check ceilings for evidence of dripping or staining.
When the weather is clear, look around outside the house during the day, and check for cracked windows, items blown on to the property by strong winds and roof damage.
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