Eastern Ontario residents feel abandoned 6 months after tornado

Eastern Ontario residents feel abandoned 6 months after tornado

Rob and Elizabeth Haid stand in front of a pile of trees and branches collected after the tornado that struck their own campground near Tweed, Ontario on July 24, 2022. (Dan Taekema/CBC – photo credit)

Rob and Elizabeth Haid have spent the last six months rebuilding their lives after a tornado tore through their campsite near Tweed, Ontario.

On July 24, howling winds north of Belleville whipped trailers and uprooted hundreds of trees, leaving a business they hoped would support their retirement in shambles.

Despite putting in weeks of 14-hour workdays and spending $200,000 cleaning up, they are still surrounded by evidence of the storm. Fragmented debris, piles of logs, branches and limbs that they say they have no way of getting rid of dot the landscape of Haid’s Hideaway.

The couple said their insurance company only covers about half of the cost and they feel left alone to deal with the disaster.

“We have no help from the province, no help from the community and no help from the federal government,” Rob said.

“It’s different than downtown … Toronto, where there’s a million people, they snap their fingers and they just come running. We are left here alone and we have nothing.”

Delivered by Elizabeth Haid

Under an “umbrella of fear”

For a long time, the couple couldn’t even talk about the tornado – the pain was too intense. Now the sadness has given way to frustration.

It’s a sentiment shared by many in the rural region, including elected officials who have asked the provincial government for assistance.

This prompted Tweed Mayor Don DeGenova to call for changes in the way the country and province supports communities affected by natural disasters, warning that the damage left behind is often far greater than communities can absorb.

“We’re trying to make it clear here that people need help. They need help badly,” DeGenova said.

Dan Taekema/CBC

Researchers from Western University’s Northern Tornadoes project found that an EF2 tornado hit with maximum winds of 120 mph, leaving a trail of destruction about 34 miles long.

The story goes on

When driving on Highway 7, the damage is still evident six months later. Crooked trunks and flattened trees flank the street, and tarpaulins cover homes where siding or clapboards have been torn away.

Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

DeGenova said those who survived the tornado are reminded of it every time they look out their windows. They also begin to worry about what will come as the weather warms up.

“People live under an umbrella of fear when it comes to possible wildfires and possible floods and nobody wants to help,” he said. “I do not know what to do.”

Tweed isn’t the only one pushing for provincial support in the wake of the tornado. Hastings Borough Manager Bob Mullin sent a strongly worded letter to two Ontario ministers – natural resources and forestry, and community affairs and housing – on Dec. 20, describing “countless trees” being razed and a “serious security risk”.

“We, along with our member communities, have requested your government’s support on a number of occasions since this storm and, in our respectful opinion, have not received the appropriate level of support,” it said.

Ministry says landowners responsible

DeGenova said the Housing Department told him around Christmas that those hit by the tornado were not eligible for funding. He and other local officials attempted to meet with the ministry during the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference this week in Toronto, but said their request for a delegation was denied.

The mayor managed to speak to officials from the Ministry of Forestry and shared their concerns about the risk of flooding and fire. He described it as a “good meeting”, leaving him with the impression that the government is willing to work with the city, with more details to be announced in the next two months.

CBC News reached out to both departments with questions about tornado relief. The Ministry of Housing referred questions to the Ministry of Forestry.

Dan Taekema/CBC

Assessment teams found that most of the damage to homes and businesses caused by the July 24 storm was either covered by insurance or was ineligible under the Ontarian Disaster Recovery Assistance program, according to one Statement by a spokesman for the ministry.

“Generally, landowners are responsible for the costs associated with removing trees or debris from their property,” it says.

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

Trees turned into “spaghetti”

Kevin Trask estimates he has already spent around $60,000 on cleaning and repairs at the Black River Trading Company, his shop a short drive from Tweed.

Even six months later, he’s still finding new issues, he said, and estimates the final bill will be around $250,000.

Dan Taekema/CBC

“I would certainly appreciate any help offered,” he said of efforts to get the province involved.

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

Still, DeGenova said homeowners in the area will likely be alone when it comes to the cleanup, noting that removing trees after a tornado is dangerous and city personnel lack the necessary training.

For now, the region is focused on getting rid of the trees. The mayor said the words of a researcher who specializes in tornadoes concerned him — which otherwise reflects what many in the area are already feeling.

“He said, ‘You can be thankful for all those trees… because they’ve taken the brunt of the wind. But… next time you’re alone.”

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