Small Eastern Ontario towns struggle with cleanup after tornado hits

Tornado Aftermath Photo Courtesy of Jillian's Antiques & Things/Facebook

On Sunday evening, around 8:30 p.m., Environment and Climate Change Canada sent out a severe weather alert to residents in the areas of Madoc, Tweed, and Marmora, Ont., 40 minutes north of Belleville. Minutes later, the sky cracked open and lightning, rain, and extreme wind gusts spilled out.

“It was quite a spectacular lightning show here on the south side of Moira Lake, looking north,” says Joe Kaehler, president of the Moira Lake Property Owners Association.

Cottagers on Moira Lake were battered by severe rainfall, but escaped the worst of the winds. The residents of the Municipality of Tweed—16 kilometres east of Moira Lake—and those in the town of Madoc—three kilometres north of Moira Lake—weren’t as lucky.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, an EF-1 tornado touched down in both municipalities, leaving a mile and a half track of damage along Hwy. 7. Wind speeds reached a peak of 175 km/h, felling trees across roadways, knocking out powerlines, and damaging properties.

Jillian’s Antiques & Things in Marmora had the tin roof ripped off one of its buildings, while Woodland North 62 Lavender Farm in Madoc had an entire barn collapse.

Collapsed Barn
Photo courtesy of Woodland North 62 Lavender Farm/Facebook

“I live in the north end of our municipality,” says Larry Rollins, deputy mayor of Madoc. “We got three inches of rain in half an hour. I have a walkout basement and I was very nervous that I was going to get flooded.”

The worst of the damage in Madoc happened in O’Hara Mill Homestead and Conservation Area, Rollins says. The wind took down big trees, blocked roads, and prevented people from leaving their homes. Starting Sunday night, Madoc’s volunteer fire department worked non-stop clearing debris. All roads were finally reopened on Monday night, and as of Tuesday morning, Hydro One reported that it had restored power to 40,000 customers affected by the storm.

The municipality of Tweed, which was hit even harder than Madoc, declared a state of emergency on Monday. “[Tweed] has places that used to look like wood lots and now look like fields,” Rollins says. “There’s no trees. The trees are completely destroyed…they’re just sticks.”

A friend of Rollins who lives in Tweed near the intersection of Hwy. 37 and Hwy. 7 lost two barns in the storm. “I’m on our building inspection board, and I’ve seen what it costs to put a building up,” Rollins says. “We’re talking two-and-a-half million to three million bucks to put [a barn] back up.

What Rollins finds most concerning is that Madoc hasn’t dealt with a wind event of this magnitude since 2002, and now the municipality’s been hit twice in two months. “Never ever happened before. Never. It’s really concerning because it’s climate change. And, you know, people talk about it, but nobody really does much about it.”

The May 21 derecho tore through Madoc, taking off roofs, collapsing barns, and downing trees, leaving some Madoc residents without power for up to two weeks. The municipality was forced to open its under-construction fire department as a shelter to the public. “There’s very few places to stay and eat in our municipality, even if you didn’t have a storm,” Rollins says.

After both storms, Madoc has been left footing the clean-up bill. According to Rollins, to receive financial assistance from the provincial government during a natural disaster, you must declare a state of emergency. But to receive funding, the municipality needs to first spend three per cent of its annual budget on recovery efforts.

“We’re not going to spend more than three per cent of our budget,” Rollins says. “$50,000 in our little municipality is a 2.3 per cent tax increase. We don’t play with millions, we play with thousands, so it’s a big deal.”

With a population of 2,400, Rollins says small municipalities such as Madoc are often overlooked in these kinds of situations. “I’m telling you if this tornado had gone down the 401 or the Don Valley, we’d still be talking about it six months from now. But when it happens in rural Ontario, it’s like you don’t matter.”

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