Quebec homeowner remembers moment tornado hit farm west of Montreal

Residents west of Montreal on Tuesday recounted the moment a tornado ripped through their communities, destroying homes, vehicles and farm buildings in just seconds.

The day after the storm, residents described being shaken but unharmed by Monday’s violent storm, which left behind a trail of broken trees, toppled buildings and fields littered with debris.

Daniel Gelinas said he only had a few seconds to react before his 150-year-old farm was attacked around 5:30 p.m. Gelinas was having coffee at his home in Tres-Saint-Redempteur, Que., near the Ontario border. when he looked out the window and saw his belongings spinning in the wind.

“Parts of my deck started flying and I started seeing swirls in the yard, so I grabbed my dog, went to my basement and jumped,” he said.

In 30 seconds it was all over, Gelinas said in an interview.

“We literally fell to the ground in the basement and we got up, looked outside and it was all done.”

The storm that hit his property tore the roof off the little red farmhouse, leveled his garage and scattered his belongings across the street. A piece of the house’s roof hung from a power line, while broken furniture, wood and equipment was strewn around the pool and carefully landscaped garden.

Hydro-Qu├ębec crews were on the scene, wading through a tangle of downed trees and debris-strewn power lines.

Environment Canada confirmed Tuesday that it was a tornado that struck near Rigaud, about 60 kilometers west of Montreal. Meteorologist Michele Fleury said confirmation was based on photographs and video, but that a team from Western University’s Northern Tornados Project was en route to confirm its strength and track.

He said it was possible a tornado had also touched down in Ontario, although that has not been confirmed.

In Rigaud, a team of family members and volunteers collected pieces of roof and broken trees from the Ferme Carra dairy farm on Tuesday.

Christian Carriere, who runs the farm with his family, said he was home with his girlfriend and son when they heard the sound of objects hitting the siding and saw that the rain that had been hitting the window suddenly turned to mud.

“I told him, ‘Hurry up, let’s go, it’s a tornado,'” said Carriere, who took his entire family to the basement.

On Tuesday, he was surveying the damage to the home, which included broken windows, cracked walls and a block of wood that flew into the kitchen. Chunks of pink insulation were scattered on the grass around a mature tree lying on its side uprooted.

At the farm, a corner of the dairy barn’s roof was lifted off and a second building was largely destroyed after the tornado tossed concrete blocks, he said. The cows were unharmed, but Carriere believes the damage could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Next door, tenant Maude Caza said she was bathing with her five-year-old son when she lost power and heard an intense, roaring wind for 30 seconds.

Afterwards, the rural road went into “panic mode,” he said. “Everyone came out, all the neighbors checked to see if everyone was okay.”

The storm slammed into the side of the house, tearing and splintering the porch and taking away a garage and a barn full of chickens. On Tuesday, only the foundation of the barn remained and not a single bird was in sight.

“There were 100 chickens in that barn and most of them went away with the tornado,” Caza said.

Tres-Saint-Redempteur Mayor Julie Lemieux said the tornado damaged several homes and farm buildings in the community, as well as in Rigaud, but authorities do not believe anyone was injured.

Lemieux said residents were alerted about the storm before it arrived and the municipality responded quickly. She said it’s something they’ve had to prepare for in recent years as severe storms have become more frequent, which she attributes to climate change.

“A tornado is the first in decades, but we have to be prepared for it to happen more often,” he said, highlighting the importance of people having an emergency kit prepared.

Both Caza and Gelinas said they had received alerts on their phones earlier that afternoon warning them of a possible tornado, but said they had not seen funnel clouds or anything to suggest imminent danger.

Gelinas and his wife Julia Asselstine say they are still in shock seeing how their four years of hard work restoring the property was destroyed.

“My garage roof is 30 feet up in the tree here, our deck is in the other yard,” he said. “The pool is practically dismantled. It’s incredible.”

Asselstine, who was at the couple’s main home in Montreal, said she received a text message from her husband when the storm hit. After that, she couldn’t reach him and feared the worst as she called him again and again.

Both say the important thing is that no one was hurt and that the now-roofless 19th-century farmhouse as well as a 100-year-old barn on the property were held up pretty well, all things considered.

“We will rebuild, that’s all,” Gelinas said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024.

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