US tornado outbreak: thousands of Canadians help in wake of disasters

Hundreds are already receiving relief in the areas hardest hit by blizzards and tornado

An outpouring of help from agencies as well as individuals to those affected by snow, wind and more tornadoes in the region is being sent to the United States by several Canadian aid agencies and United Nations agencies.

At least a dozen tornadoes touched down in southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and southwestern Michigan, striking overnight and Friday. Around 300 people are already receiving relief, said Amanda Reiman, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross.

“People have been arriving and our facilities are really filling up. We are providing shelter, hygiene kits, cleaning supplies and some general recovery,” Reiman said.

Relief agencies are aiming to disburse about $1m in assistance to those affected.

“We’re already starting to get calls for supplies and people who want to make a monetary donation,” said Robert Sirois, regional chief executive of the Canadian Red Cross.

Canada has already pledged $500,000 in Canadian dollars and an additional $250,000 for search and rescue operations. “We are constantly in touch with US officials, and we’re doing whatever we can to be the most efficient,” Sirois said.

In the US, Red Cross director Robert Snopkowski said the focus was on providing temporary shelter and clean-up supplies to affected families.

“Hopefully we can get people into a more stable place, and hopefully they can get started to rebuild their lives,” he said.

Governor Bruce Rauner requested federal assistance to help with debris removal in southeast Illinois on Friday, and US president Donald Trump sent FEMA team to Wisconsin and Iowa to offer assistance. A governor’s task force was also in Wisconsin preparing for assessments to be done by Sunday morning.

“The storms are impacting southern Wisconsin and across the Midwest. We are working closely with FEMA to obtain federal assistance for local communities that were affected,” Governor Scott Walker said in a statement.

Severe weather expert Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground, called the Midwest tornado outbreak “an unusually big event.” He compared it to the September 2011 tornado outbreak that affected seven states and resulted in 309 deaths in seven states.

“And if this continues as we hope, next week could turn out to be quite active again,” Masters said in an email on Friday.

Many of the tornadoes spotted were small and had winds as low as 60km/h (37mph), according to the National Weather Service. Some of the tornadoes were 1,500m (4,800ft) wide, and have been described as “single occurrence tornadoes”.

This is not the first time that the region has been struck by a major tornado outbreak. In 2013 the eastern United States was pummeled by tornadoes that killed nearly 200 people, most of them in Alabama and Mississippi.

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