Eastern Ontario residents feel abandoned 6 months after tornado

Elected officials in Tweed and Hastings County have pleaded with the Ontario government for support cleaning up after July's tornado, but say they haven't received much help.

Most damage covered by insurance or not eligible for provincial relief, ministry says

A man and woman in black winter coats stare through heavy snow toward the camera. The pile of tree trunks behind them is covered by snow.

Rob and Elizabeth Haid have spent the past six months trying to rebuild their lives after a tornado tore through the campground they own near Tweed, Ont.

Screaming winds tossed trailers and wrenched hundreds of trees from the ground north of Belleville on July 24, leaving a business they hoped would support their retirement in tatters.

Despite spending weeks of 14-hour work days and $200,000 spent on cleanup, evidence of the storm still surrounds them. Splintered wreckage, piles of trunks, branches and boughs they say they have no way to get rid of dot the landscape at Haid's Hideaway.

The couple said their insurance company is only paying about half the cost and they feel as though they've been left on their own to deal with the disaster.

"We have no help from the province, no help from the municipality and no help from the federal government," said Rob.

"It's different than being downtown … Toronto where there's a million people, they snap their fingers and they just come running. We're left out here by ourselves and we've got nothing."

A large camping trailer is shown lying on its side, surrounded by trees that are uprooted and broken in half.

Under an 'umbrella of fear'

For a long time the couple couldn't even talk about the tornado — the pain was too raw. Now grief has given way to frustration.

It's a feeling shared by many in the rural region, including elected officials who have pleaded with the provincial government for support.

It prompted Tweed Mayor Don DeGenova to call for changes in how the country and province support communities hit by natural disasters, warning the damage left behind is often far more than municipalities can take on.

"We're trying to make a point here, people need help. They need help desperately," said DeGenova.

A man with white hair stares at the camera with a serious face. The flags of Ontario and Canada can be seen in the background behind him.

Researchers with Western University's Northern Tornadoes project determined an EF2 tornado with maximum wind speeds of 190 km/h hit and left a trail of destruction about 55 kilometres long.

Driving along Highway 7, the damage is still obvious half a year later. Twisted trunks and flattened trees flank the road and tarps cover homes where siding or shingles were torn away.

A house with debris on its roof and a large fallen tree in the yard.

DeGenova said those who weathered the tornado are reminded of it every time they look out the window. They're also starting to worry about what will come when the weather warms up.

"People are living under an umbrella of fear when it comes to potential forest fires and potential flooding and nobody wants to help," he said. "I don't know what to do."

Tweed isn't alone in pushing for provincial support in the wake of the tornado. Hastings County Warden Bob Mullin sent a strongly-worded letter to two Ontario ministers — natural resources and forestry, and municipal affairs and housing — on Dec. 20, describing "countless trees" that had been levelled and a "serious safety risk."

"We, along with our member municipalities, have reached out for support several times to your government since this storm hit and have not received, in our respectful opinion, the appropriate level of assistance," it reads.

Ministry says landowners responsible

DeGenova said the housing ministry told him around Christmas that those hit by the tornado aren't eligible for any funding. He and other local officials tried to meet with the ministry during this week's Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto, but said their request for a delegation was denied.

The mayor did manage to speak with representatives with the forestry ministry, sharing their concerns about the flood and fire risk. He described it as a "good meeting," which left him with the impression the government was open to working with the town, with more details to come in the next two months.

CBC News reached out to both ministries with questions about tornado relief. The housing ministry deferred questions to the forestry ministry.

A "No Trespassing" sign is shown handing from a wire gate. A bright yellow sign saying Haid's Hideaway stands beside it. There's lots of snow on the ground.

Assessment teams determined most of the damages to homes and businesses caused by the July 24 storm were either covered by insurance or weren't eligible under the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians Program, according to a statement from a ministry spokesperson.

"Generally, landowners are responsible for costs associated with tree or debris removal on their property," it read.

"The province continues to work with municipalities, private sector partners, and individuals to discuss how to best recover from damaging storms."

Trees turned into 'spaghetti'

Kevin Trask estimates he's already spent about $60,000 in clean-up and repair costs at Black River Trading Company, his business a short drive from Tweed.

Even six months later he still finds new issues, he said, and figures the final bill will be about $250,000.

A man stands next to a pile of large, newly-cut tree trunks, most of which are wider than his head. Another pile of logs can be seen behind him.

"I would gratefully accept whatever help was on offer for sure," he said of the efforts to get the province to chip in.

Trask said the warped branches left behind by the tornado looked like spaghetti noodles, many of which are under tension and ready to spring back when a chainsaw or backhoe tries to clear them away, describing it as "dangerous work."

Still, DeGenova said homeowners in the area will likely be alone when it comes to cleanup, noting tree removal after a tornado is hazardous and municipal staff don't have the necessary training.

Right now the region is focused on getting rid of the trees. The mayor said the words of a researcher who specializes in tornadoes worry him — echoing in a different way what many in the area are already feeling.

"He said, 'You can be thankful for all those trees … because they took the brunt of the wind. But … the next time you're on your own."


Dan Taekema


Dan Taekema is CBC’s reporter covering Kingston, Ont. and the surrounding area. He’s worked in newsrooms all along Highway 401 with stops in Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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