By Isabelle Paquette, Canadian Red Cross Communications Volunteer

Carmen-et-famille_Tornade-Gatineau_2018_460-min-(1).jpgI noticed Bertrand, Carmen and their adorable Maggie (okay let’s be honest, mostly Maggie) when I arrived at the Centre. Several metres away from the bench where they have set up camp, signs indicate that no dogs are allowed beyond the doors. I see that it’s out of the question for them to part with their beloved Pomeranian.
 
I patiently wait my turn to talk to Carmen. Everyone who passes by stops to say hello and see how she and her husband are doing. When I finally have the chance to sit down beside her, I can barely introduce myself before she jumps in to say, “I want you to know that we are being treated very well here. We feel like family, and we feel safe. All the responders, the Red Cross and their partners, are doing a magnificent job.”

After thanking her for her kind words, I ask whether she would be willing to start her story from the beginning. She starts out by telling me that she’d had no idea that a tornado was coming, because she doesn’t have her cellphone on her at work (Carmen has been a Walmart associate for nearly 10 years). She admits that she was very frightened when she came home.

As she was telling me about her experience, she took out her phone to show me some photos. The snapshots are blurry. “I was a bundle of nerves,” she tells me. After seeing the state of her car, building, and yard, it’s easy to understand Carmen’s state of shock. She thanks God every day that she is alive, adding that back home, only “an angel and the Blessed Virgin are still in their places.”

Bertrand and Carmen are well acquainted with the services the Red Cross provides. In December 2006, a large fire broke out in the building they have been living in for 20 years — the same one that was hit by the tornado on September 21. Sadness gives way to laughter as she tells me about her first evacuation in her nightie, without her teeth or glasses. Then she comes back to the present and stresses once again, “I want people to know how well we are treated. They [the volunteers] are doing a tremendous job. I have nothing but praise for all the responders here. They saved us from the worst of it.”

maggie.jpgAs dinnertime arrives, our conversation draws to a close. I give Carmen a hug and pet Maggie one last time. That’s when Carmen tells me, “Go ahead, I’ll let you borrow him!” So then I hug Bertrand, who has gotten up from his seat for the occasion.

I leave with a heart full of admiration for these people, who are demonstrating incredible resilience and keep on smiling in spite of the situation. I also think about the volunteers who have been hard at work for nearly two weeks. Carmen is right: they are truly inspiring.

To learn more about the Red Cross response, visit our Tornados in Ottawa-Gatineau page