ANGUS, Ont. – Hundreds of residents in a central Ontario community devastated by a tornado that blew out windows, ripped off roofs and downed trees are being asked to stay away from their homes until authorities assess the damage.
The twister ripped through the Essa Township, about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, at about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Essa Township Mayor Terry Dowdall said about 100 homes were damaged in Angus, which is located in the township. The provincial police said three people suffered minor injuries.
Dowdall, who joined other emergency officials this morning to give a brief update on the situation, said he has never before seen such destruction in the community.
“Weather seems to be changing I think in the province of Ontario,” he said. “But I’ve never seen, and basically no one’s seen devastation quite like this (here).”
Essa Fire Chief Cynthia Tustin said it was “amazing” that the twister touched down at the “right time of day.”
“People weren’t asleep… people were up and people were able to be aware of what’s going on,” she said.
Kevin Thompson, 42, came home from the dentist to find the tornado had torn through his neighbourhood, ripping shingles off his roof and whipping an Adirondacks chair through his kitchen wall.
“It was sort of surreal because when you pulled into the subdivision, the upper part was great, and we saw people standing there pointing down towards our home,” he said Wednesday as he stood across the street from his battered brick house.
“You start looking up the street and down the street and you see houses that are totally gone and nothing there.”
Thompson and his wife were able to gather a few clothes and feed their cats before they were forced out of the house again. He said waiting for clearance to go back has been “frustrating,” but he understands the safety issues at stake.
Provincial police Const. Kelly Daniels said the priority now is to ensure homes are safe enough for people to go back inside and retrieve needed personal items like medication.
Police asked directly affected residents not to return to their homes “for their own personal safety.”
Daniels said residents who have been displaced will be escorted by police and fire officials when they go inside and it will be done home by home.
“Now that we know everyone is safe, our job is to protect their property,” said Daniels.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said her thoughts and prayers were with the families who have lost their homes and promised to visit the affected area in the coming days.
“I know that the people of Ontario are strong,” Wynne said in a statement.
“The community has pulled together and is rallying around those who have been most impacted by the storm. This caring and compassion will help them as they rebuild.”
Emergency officials were holding a meeting with residents later Wednesday at the Angus recreation centre to discuss what happens next.
“We’re moving forward, we have a new day and a new plan,” said Dowdall, adding building officials would immediately begin assessing properties.
He said the top priority would be to ensure the buildings are safe before residents are allowed to return.
Police tape cordoned off one of the hardest hit areas, where broken tree branches piled up with toppled fences, crumpled bicycles, lawn chairs and roof shingles.
Curious residents slowed their cars to look at the wreckage, with some stopping to take photos of the grim scenery.
Environment Canada said preliminary estimates suggest the tornado that struck Angus was an EF-2 with estimated wind speeds near 180 km/h. The weather agency said the third tornado of the season tracked east from Angus to Barrie.
A survey team returned to the area Wednesday to further assess the nature and severity of the damage from Angus to Barrie, the weather agency said.
The weather agency had issued tornado warnings for several communities in the area on Tuesday as a line of severe thunderstorms with embedded tornadoes moved into the Lake Simcoe region.
Tustin said the fire department also sent messages out by Twitter warning people to take cover and get into their basements if possible.
The storms also cut electricity to several thousand homes and businesses, but power had been restored to most by morning.