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A Globe reader writes: After the rain stopped, and the clouds started moving away, I took this photograph in those few moments that the sun tried to come through, only to cloud over and start pouring rain again. (James Haddon)
A Globe reader writes: After the rain stopped, and the clouds started moving away, I took this photograph in those few moments that the sun tried to come through, only to cloud over and start pouring rain again. (James Haddon)

Tornadoes touch down in Ontario Add to ...

Southern Ontario residents will soon begin picking up the pieces after a devastating thunderstorm rolled across a large stretch of the province Thursday night, generating 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 Thursday night that one person had died when a tornado went through a conservation area.

One witness said he helped perform CPR on a teenage boy after a tent he was in collapsed in the Durham conservation area. The boy was covered in blood, and was pronounced dead at the scene, the man said.

Dan Sullivan, deputy mayor of the Municipality of West Grey, which includes Durham, confirmed that one person had died but would not comment on such witness accounts.

"At this point, there has been a fatality reported to us," he said.

In the town, a printing company and a recreation centre were destroyed. One man inside the recreation centre was hurt while seeking shelter in a sauna. 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 Thursday 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.

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The City of Vaughan and Municipality of West Grey both declared a state of emergency Thursday night, which allows them to call in help from Emergency Management Ontario.

The City of Vaughan said about 120 homes, mostly in its communities of Maple and Woodbridge, were damaged or destroyed. Many were evacuated last night. Residents were able to go to the Father Ermanno Bulfon Community Centre on Martin Grove Road Thursday 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."

Mayor Linda Jackson told a late-night news conference she was relieved that there were no serious injuries or deaths in the city.

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