Replanting trees, rebuilding their lives: two tornado survivors share their stories
Published Friday, September 20, 2019 5:18PM EDT Last Updated Friday, September 20, 2019 6:42PM EDT
It took just a matter of seconds last September 21st to change the lives of thousands of people.
Their homes were broken, their bodies were broken.
CTV News has reconnected with two Ottawa families we met in the aftermath of the tornadoes a year ago.
Little saplings now replace the towering pines that once defined the character of Arlington Woods.
But Linda Willman decided to go big or go bust.
“I’m so thrilled about this tree,” she says as she pops out her back door to water her maple. It’s the largest maple tree should could find to plant.
“Hope, it's hope,” she says, “for some of the beauty to return.”
Hope has been as fragile, it turns out, as those beautiful white pines that once populated her neighbourhood. In the past year since the tornado decimated Arlington Woods, she has lost two dear friends and her husband Gordon.
CTV Ottawa spoke with Linda days after the tornado hit. Her husband, dying of cancer, had been sitting in his favorite chair in the family room when Linda felt the air pressure change. She screamed at him to run for it.
“My husband wasn't mobile,” she says, “He watched a tree come through the window here and got out of the way just in the nick of time.”
With damage everywhere and no power, Linda had to move Gordon out. His dying wish was to return home and he did, passing away January 30th.
“He had both his girls and myself here when he passed,” says Willman, “It couldn't have been more gentle or more loving honestly.”
Now Linda is building on her memories and rebuilding her life, tree by tree.
“It's still a bit of an ache. We're all planting trees, which is so heartwarming and now in 10 years, it will be similar, not the same but similar.”
The Muldoon farm in Dunrobin looks much the same a year after the tornado. The repairs are extensive.
“I don’t know how we’re going to clean this up, Leo,” Adele says to her husband, as they look over the property.
“A barn here, a shed over there and another down there,” Leo explains the damage the tornado did, “Five of them gone in two seconds.”
The barns may have been destroyed but Leo Muldoon, on the other hand, is a walking miracle after facing death straight in the eye.
“I was up on that building there,” he explains, “nailing down a piece of tin.”
Muldoon was thrown 25 metres away and suffered two collapsed lungs and 7 cracked ribs. With on-going rehabilitation, Muldoon has managed to hop back on his tractor, and take control again of his life. His sense of humor is a constant.
“It only hurts when I run,” he quips, to which his wife adds, “You never run.”
As for the anniversary, Leo has little to say about that except this when asked what is going through his mind.
“Stay off the roof!”