Shawn Gervais and his family received two alerts on their cell phones before the tornado hit – one warned them of high winds, the next one told them to take shelter immediately.

Shawn, his wife Shana and their two daughters Gabriella and Mariana, headed for the basement, and ultimately took cover in a bathroom after a fallen tree shattered one of the windows down there. “It lasted for about a minute,” Shawn said, “but it was absolutely terrifying.”

Roof damage after the tornadoWhen the storm passed, Shawn and his family left the basement to find not only broken glass, but that their roof had been mostly blown off, and water was pouring in. Acting quickly, they grabbed some clothing, made sure the power was off, and got out. “We lived in the Caribbean for a while and lived through some hurricanes, we just sort of went into action mode.”

One thing that surprised Shawn was the mental health toll a disaster like this can have, “we just tried to get back to normal, but were in this state of shock.” A counsellor at his daughters’ school helped with some of the initial mental health support.

Although the family knew the Canadian Red Cross was providing assistance, Shawn said he initially assumed that his family wouldn’t qualify, or that there would be a lengthy application process involved in getting help. “We’ve always just done things on our own,” Shawn explained, “it wasn’t until a neighbour said we should go visit that we did. I had assumed it would be complex, but it wasn’t – the Red Cross was there, they treated us like humans, with compassion. Insurance can take a long time, but Red Cross helped right away.”

The Gervais familyThe assistance helped with immediate needs, “it went a long way to replacing essentials, like food and clothes for the kids. The generosity people showed when they donated was amazing, they were there for us, it kind of restored my faith in humanity. We donate after things like the earthquake in Haiti, or the wild fires out west but after you donate you don’t always know or think about exactly how it is used and now I know.”

Shawn is staying upbeat as he and his family recovers, “we’re lucky, there are lots of contractors in this neighbourhood”, he said with a laugh.

Were you impacted by the Ottawa-Gatineau Tornado? Learn about support that may be available to you.

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