“I look at the front yard of my house now and I barely recognize it,” said Lorna Wilson after an EF2 tornado ripped through her family’s Wellington North farm, uprooting trees and tearing buildings apart.
Wilson and her husband Harold watched from a cellar doorway on Sunday night as the storm cut a devastating path across the farm on Concession 11 in former Arthur township.
“We just saw black clouds and the hail and it came and took the trees all out at the front of our house, the driveway. We lost eight great big trees and it put a great big tree into my pool,” said Wilson.
“Then it went around the back of the barns and it totally destroyed the heifer barn and it took out another Quonset shed … they are totally gone, both of them, and then it took the back wall out of the robot barn.”
Lorna said the large barn for robotic milking was built just two years ago at Indian Maiden Farms, which the Wilsons operate with their daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Mike Oosterhos. The barn held 120 milking cows, none of which were harmed during the tornado.
The tiny community of Teviotdale was at the centre of one the most severe weather events ever to strike Wellington County.
Miraculously, no one was injured despite massive damage to buildings during a fierce thunderstorm that involved at least one tornado touchdown in the area on Aug. 2.
Environment Canada confirmed an EF2 tornado touched down in Teviotdale shortly after 9pm, tearing the top floor off one home and damaging another. The Minto Fire Department and Wellington County OPP responded to the incident, which also damaged four OPP cruisers when the storm picked up an OPP utility trailer and dropped it on the vehicles at the local station.
Constable Marylou Schwindt, who estimated the tornado launched the trailer about 60 metres, said there was also some “cosmetic” damage to the Teviotdale station, which is just over a year old.
“We were very fortunate there,” said Schwindt.
A Teviotdale business also sustained damage and power lines were downed and crops damaged.
The tornado caused significant damage in Minto, Wellington North and Mapleton, as homes and barns were damaged by high winds.
“We’re extremely grateful that there were no known injuries,” stated Wellington County Warden George Bridge, mayor of the town of Minto. in a press release issued on Aug. 3.
The release also quotes Wellington North Mayor Andy Lennox, who estimates damage from the storm was expected to run into millions of dollars.
Linda Dickson, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said she was impressed with the response from emergency crews and municipal officials.
“Overall, it went very well,” she said. She noted staff was monitoring the weather in anticipation of a possible emergency and “kicked [the operation] into high gear” as soon as damage reports came in from the Teviotdale area.
In addition to the Wilson’s farm, a large implement shed on the Third Line of Mapleton was “torn off its foundation and thrown against the barn,” said Mapleton Mayor Neil Driscoll.
A house in the same area was also damaged and a turkey barn at Maryborough Line 14 and Sideroad 12 was “knocked down.”
Although the roof collapsed at the turkey barn owned by Buck Ross, there was no livestock loss as the barn was empty at the time, said Driscoll. Ross was not available for comment by press time.
Dickson said one other farm did lose some chickens in the storm, but others escaped without any loss of livestock.
Downed limbs blocked roadways and knocked down power lines in some local areas and Hydro One reported 47,157 customers were without power across the province on Sunday night.
By Monday at about 10:30am, sections of roads in Minto, Mapleton and Wellington North were closed to facilitate cleanup efforts. The Town of Minto reported roads re-opened about five hours later.
Environment Canada was on the scene Monday, but didn’t confirm the tornado’s status until that evening. However, at Indian Maiden Farms, the Wilsons knew what they were dealing with right away.
“It was a twister,” said Lorna. “It just sucked the roof and all the walls right off the heifer barn and put them in another place – out in the cornfield. We have tractors with the steel wrapped right around the cabs on the tractors.”
Lorna, who described the experience as “a little scary,” said while the damage at her property is severe, things could have been much worse.
“My kids and my animals are all fine. They were a little shook up, but we are all in one piece.
“We’re talking probably a million dollars damage here. This farm is just destroyed,” she said.
However, within a half-hour after the twister hit, about 100 people arrived to help at the farm, where milking is an around-the-clock operation.
“Neighbours and friends came and the vets were here at midnight and the electricians were here at midnight. The ministry (OMAFRA) was here the next day and the mayor was here and the fire chief has been here.
“We might have been shut down for an hour, but that’s all.”
Dickson said that experience was mirrored across the region, with county residents – “as they always do” – rising to the occasion following the emergency.
“Everybody chipped in to help their neighbours,” Dickson said on Tuesday. “Things certainly don’t look the same today as they did on Sunday night.”
Across northern Wellington, property owners and helpers, along with public works crews, began cleanup on Monday.
Lennox called the level of damage significant.
“Although it’s still early, it would be safe to say it will be in the millions of dollars,” he said.
“All of the farm animals and livestock affected by this storm are being taken care of in an appropriate manner.”
Local officials said the timing of the storm on a holiday weekend may have been a blessing, as many residents were away from their homes.
Driscoll stated this is one of the reasons assessment of the damage will take some time to complete.
“People may come home and find there has been some damage to their property, said Driscoll.
“We urge anyone affected to call their respective municipal offices as soon as possible.”
In Minto, public works crews cleared many downed limbs on public roadways in Palmerston within hours of the storm on Sunday night and continued to work on downed limbs on back roads, as well as public parks and cemeteries, on Aug. 4. Officials urged the public to exercise care and caution in those areas.
Minto landowners were asked to report any property damage to the municipal office and public works staff picked up downed limbs left at the roadside on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A press release from Minto states calls have come in from outlying communities offering assistance. Damage assessment is ongoing in the community and if assistance is required it will be coordinated through public works, officials stated. Minto’s chief building official Terry Kuipers assessed the impacted buildings and will be working with affected landowners and insurance companies on repairs.
Bridge thanked all emergency responders, town and county staff and the public “for their hard work and support” during and after the event.
As of Tuesday, the people most impacted by the tornado had not identified any specific needs to the town, the release notes, adding town staff will document calls offering assistance directed to CAO Bill White at 519-338-2511 ext. 221 or email@example.com.
Mapleton council, at special meeting on Aug. 4, agreed to waive building permit fees for repair or replacement of structures damaged in the storm. Council also agreed to allow residents to drop off trees and branches downed in the storm at the Moorefield public works yard until Aug. 14.
The township stated in a press release it has been advised by Environment Canada that residents with damage to structures on their property should have other structures on their property assessed by a qualified structural engineer “as some damage to structures may not be visually obvious.”
Wellington North stated in a release the township is working with officials from neighbouring Minto and Mapleton as well as the county to ensure municipal services are restored and that impacted residents have the needed support.
Consultations continue with representatives from Environment Canada and OMAFRA and further assessments of impacted properties will continue, the release states.
– With files from Chris Daponte