Recovering from the storm

July 31, 2010
Written by Fred Groves
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Henry Mastronardi of H&A Farms surveys the damage to his greenhouses.
PHOTO BY FRED GROVES

Twisted, bent, broken – gone.

However it’s described, it will take months and even years to recover from the F-1 tornado that tore a path of destruction along the Lake Erie shoreline in and around Leamington, Ontario, during the early morning hours of Sunday, June 6.

Thankfully, there were no serious injuries reported.

Some of the Aris Horticulture Inc.’s Keepsake Plants (formerly Yoder Canada) facilities on Seacliff Drive in Leamington were among the most seriously damaged.

Interviewed only a few days into the cleanup, operations manager Rob Bigley said damage to six acres of greenhouses would be in the millions of dollars.

“It’s in the millions, there is no doubt about it,” said Bigley as he surveyed the damage. Plant 1 and Plant 2 were in full production. “It’s six acres that are a writeoff.”

Across the road, and only a few hundred yards away, Jacob’s Flowers appeared virtually untouched by the storm, such was the zig-zag path of the storm.

SEVERAL FARMS NOW IN REBUILDING PHASE
The tornado caused considerable damage to several other greenhouse operations, including Pelee Hydroponics, N&M Farms and neighbouring H&A Farms.

Twelve homes were destroyed.

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Six acres at Keepsake Plants were completely destroyed PHOTO BY FRED GROVES

 
“From a company perspective, we are glad no one was hurt,” said Bigley. “Our boiler man said it was over in five or six minutes. He was traumatized, but he was not hurt.”

The storm-ravaged area had twisted metal and glass everywhere, along with hundreds of uprooted trees.

“It was real bad,” said Bigley. “It could take a hundred years to replace some of the trees.”

Henry Mastronardi, owner of H&A Farms, simply said, “it could have been worse.”

As workers tried to get the greenhouse operation back into working order, he noted that a 1985 hailstorm also caused a lot of damage.

His nephew, Rino, co-owner of N&M Farms along with his father Nick, estimated as much as $300,000 worth of damage. “I have to tear everything down and put it back up.”

Rino described what he heard and saw immediately before and after the storm. “I heard the rain and I heard the whoosh sound. I came to the back and I could not believe it. My dad called me and he said it was demolished.”

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Keepsake Plants operations manager Rob Bigley surveys the damage at the Leamington location that was hit by the tornado.
 
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Rino Mastronardi looks up to work being done on one of his damaged greenhouses.
PHOTOS BY FRED GROVES

 
ONTARIO PREMIER TOURS THE REGION
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty toured the storm damage and was shown the damage at Keepsake Plants by managing director Chris Jacobs. Sections of the greenhouse that were 25 feet tall were slashed to half that height.

Flowers could still be seen inside the greenhouse but they can’t be sold because they have shards of glass in them.

Bigley said the company will now determine their next step.

“There are a couple of options. Do we level and rebuild on this property or go out and buy property and rebuild the six acres we lost?”

He noted that the support from customers and suppliers has been overwhelming and many of the staff were working at other company locations.

No disruption in daily shipments was anticipated due to the storm “and we are operating as normal,” noted the company in a news release issued only days after the storm.

In media reports, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers general manager George Gilvesy said that 16 acres at five locations were “decimated,” while a number of other greenhouses had vent damage to repair.

“We are keeping our members in our thoughts during this difficult time and will be working with those affected to ensure a smooth rebuilding process,” said Gilvesy. “There is some damage to the affected greenhouses but our growers are resilient and have been working through the damages. We are just very thankful there were no injuries.”

Provincially, OGVG represents over 1,820 acres of greenhouses. ■

Fred Groves is a freelance writer and photographer in Leamington.

Minister tours tornado damage
By Fred Groves

The Mayor of Leamington says it could take up to a year for greenhouse owners to recover from the June 6 tornado.

“These are multimillion-dollar industries that will suffer for the next six months to a year,” said John Adams.

The mayor, along with local MPPs Bruce Crozier and Pat Hoy, joined Ontario Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Carol Mitchell on a tour of the devastated area just six days after the F-1 tornado hit.

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Taking part in the tornado damage tour were, left to right, Leamington Mayor John Adams, MPP Bruce Crozier, provincial Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell and MPP Pat Hoy.

“I am here to experience the challenges agri-business is facing,” said Mitchell at Pelee Hydroponics. According to owner Dennis Dick, his operation lost four acres of organic tomatoes and two acres of seedless cucumber plants.

Damage estimates were still being tabulated at the time of their tour. Insurance adjusters and structural engineers are working closely with local owners.

“We have never experienced anything like this,” said Crozier.

Two days prior to Mitchell’s visit, the federal government announced $2 million to repair the docks at the Leamington marina. Although Mitchell did not make a funding announcement with respect to the affected farms, she did indicate the province would help in the recovery.

“There will be short-term and long-term (assistance). There will be things that we can do working with the federal government,” said Mitchell.

She was impressed with the “sense of community” displayed by Leamington residents following the disaster.

“We will be working with other ministries. I am not here to announce funding. It will be more than writing cheques. It’s what we do to move the industry forward,” she added.

Dick was not upset with the fact there was no immediate funding announcement and noted it is too early to know what they need. “Once we define what our damage is, we’ll be able to use that door (government funding) that is open.”

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