MASCOUCHE, Que. — Residents of a town north of Montreal on Tuesday began clearing out the tree branches and twisted debris scattered by a deadly tornado, as they expressed sadness at the loss of a 59-year-old neighbour killed in the twister.
The tornado Monday afternoon carved a destructive path through a residential neighbourhood of Mascouche, Que., snapping mature trees in half, tearing chunks out of roofs and ripping one home under construction off its foundation.
A man died after taking shelter in his shed, while two other people were injured when the tornado touched down. The Quebec coroner's office identified the victim as 59-year-old Jacques Lefebvre.
Michel Vachon said he and Lefebvre, a grandfather, had been outside behind their homes building a small bridge when they saw the tornado approach.
"When it came, it came too fast. We didn't have time to do nothing," he said in an interview. "I lost my friend. He went this way, and I (went) in my home and had just the time to close the door."
Vachon said he'd been friends with Lefebvre for 30 years, and would remember him as someone who was always ready to help others. "Everybody liked him," he said. "He's a very good neighbour."
The field behind their homes was littered with debris that included pieces of wood, vinyl siding, bicycles and lawn mowers. Vachon said his neighbour's body was found in the field, dozens of metres from where he was last seen. In the middle of the field, a pot of red flowers sat on a torn piece of plywood, with a note attached from the neighbours that began: "Hey Jacques, thank you for everything. Rest in peace."
Quebec Premier François Legault travelled to the neighbourhood Tuesday afternoon, where he met with residents including Lefebvre's wife. Standing outside their heavily damaged home, she cried as she described the loss of her husband of 39 years. Flanked by her two grown children, she said she and Lefebvre had been planning their retirement.
"He was my other half," she told the premier.
At a news conference moments earlier, Legault described the scene as "like something from a horror film." He said most of the cost of damage would likely be covered by insurance, but the province was willing to step in with extra compensation if needed.
Environment Canada says a thunderstorm cell at around 3:45 p.m. generated the tornado. Meteorologists who surveyed the damage Monday evening say their preliminary findings suggest the tornado's maximum wind speeds measured between 180 and 200 km/h, consistent with an EF2 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The scale rates wind damage between zero and five, with five being the strongest.
Residents interviewed Tuesday described a sudden, roaring wind and a fast-moving black funnel cloud that picked up anything loose in its path and threw it blocks away. Sophie Michaud was out in her backyard, taking stock of a topsy-turvy scene that included a trampoline on her shed. She said her partner had been firing up the barbecue when the wind picked up, and he had just enough time to get inside.
"He closed the door and we just saw the barbecue fly in the air, the trampoline flew onto the house," said Michaud. "It happened in a fraction of a second."
Despite some roof damage and a tree that smashed through the windshield of her SUV, she's relieved that she, her partner and her three children are all safe after a scary experience. She says her neighbour, who was hospitalized, wasn't so lucky.
Across the street, half a full-sized tree sat in the swimming pool of Johny Pierre's home, which was missing most of the shingles on the roof. "It was terrible," Pierre said. "It was like everything was flying."
Pierre said that while his home and backyard are heavily damaged, it could have been worse. He says his young son goes for a swim every day after school, and could easily have been in the pool had the tornado come just a bit later. "When I learned my wife and my son were safe I said, 'We can repair the home, we can repair the car,' " he said.
Mascouche Mayor Guillaume Tremblay said late Monday the city was caught off guard by the twister, but its emergency response plan was quickly put into action and worked well. A spokesperson for the town said nearly 100 buildings were damaged.
A spokesman for Hydro-Québec said 40 of its crews were on scene and they hoped to restore power later Tuesday or Wednesday. He said some 20 poles had to be replaced, and countless tree branches and mangled power lines needed to be hauled away.
Environment Canada had issued severe thunderstorm watches for many areas of southern and central Quebec on Monday because of high humidity and high temperatures. The agency says damage reports from other parts of the province are being analyzed.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press