Ontario’s volatile summer and the fear of what might be next was on the lips of stunned residents Friday as they surveyed destroyed homes, flipped cars and trees snapped like twigs in the wake of nature’s latest weather drama — tornadoes tearing across the province.
The string of twisters Thursday, which claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy and left hundreds of families homeless, came amid a season of wild storms that have at times turned tragic.
Last week, a woman and two boys survived a vicious and sudden lightning strike in a park in Brampton, Ont., just days after another strike killed a woman on a beach on Lake Huron. Three U.S. tourists were killed by a tornado in the province’s remote north in July.
Thursday’s tornadoes, which struck the rural community of Durham and the city of Vaughan especially hard, aren’t necessarily the last for a season that’s already seen 10 twisters across the province, Environment Canada warned Friday.
“We could easily see that number climbing,” said meteorologist Geoff Coulson.
As she surveyed the detritus-strewn streets of the north-Toronto suburb of Woodbridge, business owner Gerry VanWirdum acknowledged Friday feeling uneasy about the recent weather.
“It is hitting close to home; we’ve had very unsettled weather this summer,” VanWirdum said.
“It’s not the first time shingles from houses and rooftops have blown off this summer. I think we need to get prepared.”
Marco Nicolosi, also taking in the damage in Vaughan, said he hoped not to see another storm like Thursday’s, adding he could only think to attribute it to global warming.
“It was something else,” Nicolosi said. “It’s been a weird summer.”
At Huddle Shawarma, a man who only identified himself as Sean said he watched the funnel clouds from outside his shop.
While he joked watching the storm was a “good experience,” he also said he worried about more unstable weather ahead.
“In 21 years I’ve lived in this country we never had such a thing, and we’ve seen so many crazy things this summer.”
The terrifying spectacle came as the Maritimes were bracing for the impact of hurricane Bill, which was expected to enter the waters of Atlantic Canada late this weekend, packing winds of at least 150 kilometres per hour.
The lone fatality from Thursday’s storm was the 11-year-old, who was killed when a tornado tore through a conservation area near the southwestern Ontario town of Durham, where children were at a day camp.
The boy, whose name was not released, was from the Durham area and was killed by debris, police said.
Mike Muir, Grey County EMS manager, said the majority of emergency resources were sent to the Saugeen Conservation Area, “where a number of injuries occurred.”
Six other people were treated in hospital and released, the majority of the injuries being scrapes, cuts, bruises, and minor broken bones, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Acting Mayor Dan Sullivan said it would take months of work to remove the “scars” on the community, which he said is in recovery mode.
Only minutes after arriving at the industrial site where the worst damage had occurred in Durham, Coulson confirmed with “no doubt” a tornado rated at least F2 on the Fujita scale had touched down, meaning winds roaring upwards of 180 to 240 km an hour.
He estimated the damage occurred in a “matter of seconds.”
“The worst of these things can be very, very brief, but it’s very, very intense,” he said.
Vaughan Mayor Linda Jackson called it a “real miracle” that no one in her city was killed or seriously injured.
Still, the devastation was widespread. Some 44 homes were so badly damaged that they will likely be demolished, said Jackson; a total of 600 homes sustained some form of damage from the storm.
In total, 14 building inspectors were surveying four storm-ravaged areas of the city.
A man evacuated from his home suffered a heart attack Friday morning after spending the night with his family and was in a coma, police said.
Both Durham and Vaughan declared states of emergency because of widespread damage.
On Vaughan’s streets, neighbours traded stories and cleaned up what they could.
Carm Spinelli was in her living room when the storm hit and has been staying with relatives because she hasn’t been allowed back.
“It was a big roar. I never heard anything like that in my life,” said Spinelli, who moved from the room just before the roof caved in.
“When I actually came outside and saw all of that I actually went into shock.”
She, like other residents, said her next step is to talk to her insurance company about fixing the damage.
“I am scared now, of course. You don’t expect it, you never see this in Toronto, here,” she said.
“We’ve had bad rain but not like this. It’s not a good feeling.”
Several streets of a residential neighbourhood were closed by police, but those allowed back in said they had never seen anything like it in Canada.
Pieces of trees, fences and brick were strewn across streets. Some houses had gaping holes in their front yards and exposed roof beams, while others were untouched by the storm.
Lampposts were torn off one driveway, while another was covered with downed trees, which had flattened cars, smashed lights and windows.
Fiorina Caravaggio was cleaning up after dinner when her granddaughter alerted her to the storm.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. I never slept,” said Caravaggio, whose home had broken windows and doors.
An evacuation centre in the neighbourhood was quiet, as many people in the tight-knit community opted to stay with family or friends.
Environment Canada was also dispatching crews to confirm tornadoes in Newmarket and the Collingwood area.
The Vaughan-area damage also seemed consistent with a F2 tornado, comparable to the one in Durham, Coulson said.
— With files from Trevor Pritchard in Toronto