A FLOOD, CANCER, A TORNADO — ‘WE'RE BEING TESTED’
Atornado struck their house, and a terrible thing it was. But nothing like the hurricane that has swept their lives.
Nicole Lowden, an Ottawa paramedic, is outside the crisis centre at West Carleton Secondary School, finally eating something after a day of retrieving items scattered to the winds in Friday’s catastrophic tornado in Dunrobin.
“Let me show you something.”
She pulls out her cellphone camera to illustrate how the storm blew her daughter’s bedroom right out of the house, and mostly knocked her son’s room to bits, the ceiling replaced by sky.
“I guarantee you, I can say this without a doubt, my husband saved my life and my son’s life.”
And that is but the half of it. Lowden, her husband Brian, and their three children survived the floods at nearby Constance Bay in the spring of 2017, barely keeping the surging Ottawa River from entering the waterfront home on Bayview Drive.
If not for shoulder-high sandbags and non-stop pumping, their home of 20 years might have been overwhelmed. But, inside, it stayed dry.
“We didn’t get water inside the house, but at one point we were completely surrounded.”
After the floods, they sold their home, and just weeks before it sold, their daughter, now 22, was diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma. She has now undergone eight of 12 scheduled chemo treatments and Nicole says the prognosis is good.
Had it been any other day, their daughter, who was at a friend’s place, might have been recuperating in her room that Friday during a storm that was strong enough to pick up cars and tear houses in half. She lost all her possessions.
Floods, cancer, tornado. What next?
“I try to be positive, but it’s getting harder and harder. I really feel like we’re being tested. I’m a God-fearing woman but I’m confused right now.”
On Sunday, near a swamp, she found her daughter’s pyjamas, then spotted a healing quilt, made by a good friend, hanging in a tree.
Standing there, Lowden wraps her fleece a little tighter against a chilling breeze, hugs herself a little, and chokes back a little tear.
She has spent a good deal of time this weekend doing the what ifs in her mind.
On Friday, afternoon, she arrived home and Daniel, her son, tired from a day of work, was asleep upstairs. Brian, a volunteer firefighter who was doing duty at the Carp Fair, arrived home early because of the severe weather warning.
Just as she was shutting windows upstairs against the rain and wind, she heard a scream from downstairs.
“I have never,” she said, emphasizing each word, “heard my husband yell in that manner. ‘Get down here right now.’ ”
She said Brian came upstairs, half dragged the groggy-headed Daniel down the stairs and the three of them huddled by the fridge in the kitchen, as the house had no basement.
“I’m telling you, that’s the only part of the house that is untouched.”
She describes a wild scene on the main floor as Daniel scrambled to find Lola, the blind dog, a six-pound ball of fur. Windows were breaking, splintered lumber was flying, the roof was airborne. And in a couple of minutes, it was all over. Outside, a neighbour’s home was nothing but a ragged foundation.
For now, the family is trying to regroup. They were renting the house on Thomas A. Dolan Parkway while waiting for construction to finish on a new home they’ve bought in Constance Bay. (It seems minor by comparison, but they did not have content insurance on their possessions.)
Lowden, who has slept badly all weekend, is not beyond finding humour in the calamity.
“A friend of mine was joking when she said ‘I will never live beside you.’ This is following us. I said to our builder, I feel like this is my fault.”
The residents of Dunrobin are a resilient lot.
Greg Patacairk is president of the Dunrobin Community Association, a volunteer position. He spent all weekend trying to support his friends and neighbours.
“This is definitely not a short-term fix here. We’re looking at weeks and months.” He said he was “overwhelmed” with the response from firefighters and other first responders on Friday night and the outpouring of the community ever since.
“Dunrobin will bounce back and it will be rebuilt and we’ll be stronger for it,” he said. “There’s a lot of heartache, but it’s expressed in hope.”
The Lowden family, meanwhile, is now looking for rental accommodation until their new home is ready next spring.