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Goderich rebuilds: One year after the tornado

Staff writers

August 21, 2012 — It's been a year since an F3 tornado left the picturesque community of Goderich looking like a war zone. The community continues to rebuild.

Several historical buildings, some dating back to the 1880s, were destroyed
Several historical buildings, some dating back to the 1880s, were destroyed

The tornado

It wasn't your typical Sunday in Goderich, Ontario and it's one that thousands of residents will never forget.

On August 21, 2011, at about 3:45 pm, a tornado warning was issued for the community.

"I was just ready to start preparing supper and I went into the kitchen and I turned on The Weather Network," recalls Cathy Cove, Goderich resident and co-editor of 'Not Like Any Other Sunday'.

"If you are in Goderich or Stratford or Mitchell, we're going to be asking you to take immediate cover. Environment Canada has issued tornado warnings for these areas," she heard The Weather Network's Natalie Thomas say. "And so I turned off my stove, grabbed my pets and family and we went into my son’s closet down in the basement," says Cove.

Within minutes, damage reports began flowing out of the area

Environment Canada later confirmed that the tornado that tore through was an F3 with winds reaching 280 km/h. The twister travelled for about 20 km in a southeasterly direction before eventually fizzling out.

The damage

According to officials, it was the worst tornado damage to hit Ontario since 1996.

Buildings were levelled and homes completely destroyed. Tragically, one man who was working in the salt mine at the time was killed.

Storm Hunter Mark Robinson described the scene as looking like a war zone. "It reminded me strongly of what I saw in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath."

Goderich lost between 40 and 50 heritage homes and buildings, some dating back to the 1880s. Several businesses were also destroyed including that of John Jeffery & Son.

"My husband worked here since he was a teenager," said one woman who choked back the tears after first surveying the wreckage. "Everyone in town knows John Jeffery & Son. It's just very heartbreaking," said another woman.

75% of the downtown commercial buildings sustained damage and most were unable to access their property for almost two weeks.  More than 1000 trees were uprooted, 92 in the downtown core.

The cost of tornado damage is an estimated $130 million and counting as insurance claims are settled. The tornado itself accounted for about $75 million in damages with the remainder sustained by rains that fell three days later.

Canadians encouraged to 'Rediscover Goderich'
Canadians encouraged to 'Rediscover Goderich'

Goderich rebuilds

This year has been a challenging one, but with the help of fellow Canadians, Goderich continues to rebuild.

"The spirit of optimism, resiliency and teamwork are fundamental components of the community’s character in Goderich, and its being demonstrated each and every day," says Todd Letts, with the Huron Chamber of Commerce.

He adds that almost 90% of all stores and services impacted by the tornado have rebuilt and reopened in Goderich.

"Construction totals almost $23 million in the first 7 months of this year, that’s $20 million more than pre-tornado," says Letts.

Goderich has received close to $4 million for relief efforts from all across Canada.

"Our community is in a position of gratitude. We want to start a conversation with the world by saying, ’Thank you’ and encourage the world to Rediscover Goderich.”

Letts says the Rediscover Goderich campaign is designed to encourage businesses from across the province to consider Goderich as a great market to open a second location.

"It's also a way in which we can extend an invite to our customers to plan their next vacation, hold their next family reunion or suggest to their employer to hold the next management retreat. This would really help our recovery efforts," adds Letts.

Be sure to tune into The Weather Network on TV as Natalie Thomas reports LIVE from Goderich on Tuesday.

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