A swirling mass of thunder and lightning blew out windows, tore up fences and sheared off the tops of some homes but caused no serious injuries when it ripped through the central Ontario community of Angus on Tuesday evening.
Police said at least 20 to 30 homes sustained "significant damage" in the community about 100 kilometres north of Toronto, but residents said there was widespread relief that no one appeared to have been badly hurt in the severe storm.
"I think people are very shocked by what has happened, which is totally understandable. They are relieved that nobody's hurt besides scratches and things like that," said councillor Keith White, whose ward saw the worst damage.
"Generally people seem to be taking it calmly because they understand that there's no physical, human injuries or casualties."
White, who was walking around the community's two hardest-hit streets soon after the storm passed through, said he had seen at least four homes which had their roofs entirely blown off, while tree branches, fence planks and other debris lay scattered across driveways and backyards.
"I see furniture, shingles, wood, trees, damage to vehicles," he said as he surveyed the area in the south end of Angus.
"Right now I'm standing looking at a moving truck, a double axle moving truck, which was on driveway and now it's on its side on the lawn and driveway next door."
Environment Canada's Rob Kuhn confirmed Tuesday night that it was a tornado that struck Angus.
Environment Canada had issued tornado warnings for several communities in the area as a line of severe thunderstorms with embedded tornadoes moved into the Lake Simcoe region.
The weather agency had said the storms were bringing wind gusts of over 100 kilometres per hour and warned that large hail was likely.
Christopher Bentley, who lived on the street which appeared to have sustained the worst damage, said his own home had been spared but his neighbour's home and a house across the street had been badly hit by what could have been a tornado.
"The first levels have been sheared right off, the top level of the houses," he said. "Normally you see a two-storey house with a peaked roof, now it's one level, straight across."
Bentley said his neighbours are stunned, but coping.
"They want to get into their house, to get some stuff, to just make sure that they're ok for the night, that's all they're really worried about right now," he said, adding that fire officials were escorting residents into their damaged homes to collect some belongings as streets in the neighbourhood were cordoned off with police tape.
"Right now it's just sheer shock," Bentley said of the atmosphere in the area. "Everyone walking up and down the street says it's like a movie. We've never experienced anything like this before."
Police officers, firefighters and paramedics were going door-to-door in the affected area Tuesday night to make sure no one was in need of help.
"The primary focus right now is addressing those homes where we have individuals that could be still in a residence," said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Peter Leon. "We want to make sure that nobody's trapped."
Leon said power was out in much of the area and it wasn't known when electricity could be restored.
The Township of Essa, in which Angus is located, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday night, which allowed for extra resources to be brought in deal with the storm's aftermath.
Residents gathered on driveways and sidewalks in the worst-damaged neighbourhood as emergency vehicles blocked off streets.
The damaged homes were in a relatively new subdivision in the south end of Angus. A command post was being set up in a nearby high school and town officials were looking into the possibility of housing displaced residents in a community arena for the night.
Much of southern and central Ontario was under weather warnings on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, a severe thunderstorm led to four people being hit by lightning at a golf course north of Toronto.
Police said a 51-year-old man from Thornhill, and two Toronto men — aged 53 and 56 — were in stable condition, while a 60-year-old-man from Richmond Hill was in critical condition.