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Community rallies to help Angus residents displaced by tornado

Residents in Angus Ont., near Barrie, are rallying to help almost 300 of their neighbours who have been displaced after a tornado tore through their community early Tuesday evening.

One hundred homes have been temporarily condemned in the central Ontario community about 100 kilometres north of Toronto. But residents have opened their homes, offering the displaced temporary shelter, not to mention some hot meals and companionship in a trying time.

“I’m sure someone would take us in if we needed it. So it’s only the right thing to do,” said Glenn Patey.

“Our house is open as always, and if someone needs a meal or somewhere to stay for the night, we will find (room for them),” another resident told CityNews.

Miraculously, no one was seriously injured when the twister struck around 5:20 p.m.

The powerful winds blew out windows, tore off fences and sheared the tops of some houses clear off.

In one case, half of a house was blown into a neighbour’s backyard.

“This has hit families and (thankfully) most of them were either coming from work or still at work because when you see entire bedrooms just torn apart and lying on the street, it’s a good thing somebody wasn’t sleeping in those beds,” said Simcoe-Grey MPP, Jim Wilson.

Environment Canada said the worst damage was “consistent with a high-end EF-2 tornado,” having wind speeds of 200 to 220 km/h. At the height of the severe weather that hit southern Ontario, 48,000 customers were without power. Most has been restored.

Fire chief Cynthia Tustin called the lack of injuries “an amazing piece of timing.”

She said tornado warnings were sent out over Twitter and through Environment Canada alerting people to take shelter.

“It was the right time of day. Young children were out of school or out doing things. And people were up. They were able to be aware of what’s going on,” said Tustin at a news conference.

Premier Kathleen Wynne issued a statement Wednesday expressing her condolences to the families who lost their homes. The Essa Township, which includes Angus, was declared an emergency zone immediately after the tornado and provincial officials were on the ground working closely with local counterparts to help the community. She also said she’d visit the area in coming days to offer her support.

Authorities were working Wednesday to secure the homes that families were forced to abandon. People were being allowed access to their homes with fire and police services chaperones to retrieve necessary items like medications.

Pharmacies in the community also offered to help people obtain medications.

 

A comfort centre was set up, but none of the 300 people believed to be displaced spent the night there.

“That tells me they stayed with neighbours, friends and family. There’s an outreach from the community to look after the families,” said OPP Const. Kelly Daniels.

Daniels said the police are keeping watch over the homes and protecting homeowners’ properties.

Additional building inspectors and engineers were on the scene to help assess damaged homes which was expected to take days.

An OPP helicopter was surveying the damage from above while inspectors performed door-to-door assessments.

The 100 damaged homes have been temporarily condemned until further notice even, said Daniels.

 

Essa Township Mayor Terry Dowdall said the damage is unlike anything that has hit the area.

“There’s no comparison … basically no one’s seen devastation quite like this,” Dowdall said. “It was really a miracle that no one was hurt at that time of day.”

He said efforts would be made to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible but the top priority would be to ensure the buildings are safe first.

A tornado hit nearby Barrie, about 30 kilometres northeast of Essa, in 1985, but that storm hit more commercial buildings, Wilson said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada will send representatives, many of whom assisted after an F3 tornado struck Goderich in 2011, to a residents’ meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Since a state of emergency has been declared, those hit hardest by the tornado will receive provincial assistance. Exactly how much they’ll get, and when, is still to be determined.

With files from The Canadian Press