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Residents of tornado-ravaged Ontario town asked to stay away from damaged homes

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ANGUS, Ont. - Frustration mingled with relief Wednesday in a central Ontario community devastated by a tornado as residents anxious to return to their battered homes were told to wait until authorities assessed the damage.

The twister ripped through the Essa Township, about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, at about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, blowing out windows, tearing off roofs and downing trees as it carved a path through a residential subdivision.

About 100 homes were damaged in Angus, a community within the township, and three people suffered minor injuries, officials said.

Residents said they took comfort in knowing no lives were lost in the storm that claimed so many of their possessions. But tensions simmered at an afternoon community meeting after they were told it could be days before they would be allowed home.

"It will feel like a lifetime — it already has," said Amanda Leal, whose home was left without a roof, its windows all blown in.

"People are getting angry because it's a lot of work and there's a lot of us that are going to be out of a place for a long time."

Others said they weren't getting clear answers from officials tasked with helping them deal with the disaster.

"When are they going to look at these houses? Who's going to look at these houses?" said Frank Colucci, who hoped to salvage his TV and couch before the weather ruined them.

Essa Township Mayor Terry Dowdall said he understood how difficult it must be for those displaced, but stressed officials were working as quickly as possible.

"We are doing the best that we can do for these residents, and our goal is the same as theirs, and hopefully they realize that," he said in an afternoon news conference.

"I think people are frustrated sometimes because we can't give them that exact answer and I can understand that — there's frustration, people are out of their houses, they don't have all their items."

The mayor said earlier he had never before seen such destruction in the community.

The township's fire chief, meanwhile, said it was "amazing" that the twister touched down at the "right time of day."

"People weren't asleep... people were up and people were able to be aware of what's going on," Essa Fire Chief Cynthia Tustin said.

Some who witnessed the storm said they were still shaken by their ordeal.

Leal and her two sons barely had time to seek refuge in the basement before the twister hit, she said.

"It got dark, it got loud," she recalled, her voice quivering.

"I haven't even slept. Every time I close my eyes, I replay it and hear it over and over again. I don't think I'm ever going to stop hearing that noise."

Her children, too, were scarred by the experience, she said, noting her four-year-old has been "acting it out all over again."

Kevin Thompson, 42, came home from the dentist to find the tornado had torn through his neighbourhood, ripping shingles off his roof and whipping an Adirondacks chair through his kitchen wall.

"It was sort of surreal because when you pulled into the subdivision, the upper part was great, and we saw people standing there pointing down towards our home," he said Wednesday as he stood across the street from his battered brick house.

"You start looking up the street and down the street and you see houses that are totally gone and nothing there."

Thompson and his wife were able to gather a few clothes and feed their cats before they were forced out of the house again. He said waiting for clearance to go back has been "frustrating," but he understands the safety issues at stake.

Provincial police Const. Kelly Daniels said the priority now is to ensure homes are safe enough for people to go back inside and retrieve needed personal items like medication.

Police asked directly affected residents not to return to their homes "for their own personal safety."

Daniels said residents who have been displaced will be escorted by police and fire officials when they go inside and it will be done home by home.

"Now that we know everyone is safe, our job is to protect their property," said Daniels.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said her thoughts and prayers were with the families who have lost their homes and promised to visit the affected area in the coming days.

"I know that the people of Ontario are strong," Wynne said in a statement.

"The community has pulled together and is rallying around those who have been most impacted by the storm. This caring and compassion will help them as they rebuild."

Volunteers dropped off non-perishable foods at a community centre throughout the day while others wandered near the ravaged homes, offering snacks to residents gathered on porches and street corners.

Police tape cordoned off one of the hardest hit areas, where broken tree branches piled up with toppled fences, crumpled bicycles, lawn chairs and roof shingles.

Curious residents slowed their cars to look at the wreckage, with some stopping to take photos of the grim scenery.

Environment Canada said preliminary estimates suggest the tornado that struck Angus was an EF-2 with estimated wind speeds near 180 km/h. The weather agency said the third tornado of the season tracked east from Angus to Barrie.

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 9:08 AM CDT: adds photo

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