Barrie, Ont., devastated by tornado that left 5-kilometre long path of destruction

·6 min read
On Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford toured the area devastated by a tornado in Barrie, Ont., saying the province will help affected residents in whatever way it can.  (Martin Trainor/CBC - image credit)
On Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford toured the area devastated by a tornado in Barrie, Ont., saying the province will help affected residents in whatever way it can. (Martin Trainor/CBC - image credit)

A tornado that tore through Barrie, Ont., left a path of destruction about five kilometres long and up to 100 metres wide at some points, Environment Canada said Friday.

The federal weather agency gave the tornado, which hit the city about 110 kilometres north of Toronto on Thursday afternoon, a rating of EF-2. It brought winds of up to 210 km/h.

The city of Barrie said on Friday evening that 10 people were injured after paramedics had initially put the figure at eight at a news conference on Thursday.

All but two had been released as of Friday afternoon. None suffered life-threatening injuries.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman told reporters that more than 100 people had been displaced, but the number could grow because some people went to stay with family and may not have reported their situation to the city yet.

The tornado also damaged roughly 150 homes, leaving roughly 60 of them "unsafe to enter," according to Scott Lamantia, senior communications adviser for the city of Barrie.

Premier Doug Ford said the province will cover damage for homes hit by Thursday's tornado if insurance companies will not cover the costs.

"We'll be here supporting them. If insurance doesn't cover, then we'll step up and help them out," Ford told reporters.

Ford toured the devastated area on Friday afternoon, saying the province will help affected residents in whatever way it can. He talked to residents who told stories of hiding in basements and watching dust drift down as the tornado roared overhead.

Miracle no one was killed: Ford

"It's shocking, it's heartbreaking," Ford told reporters.

"I want to give a real shout-out to first responders. They are absolute heroes," he added.

As for residents, Ford said: "These people, within minutes, literally, their lives changed. But we're going to get them back on their feet. Anything they need, we'll be there for them."

Ford said it was a "miracle" that nobody was killed.

WATCH | Tornado leaves trail of destruction in Barrie, Ont.:

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province has not yet had to step in to help because the city of Barrie is doing an "excellent" job of dealing with the aftermath.

Mayor Lehman thanked the premier and residents in other areas of Barrie for their support.

He said residents know what to do when they see a funnel cloud touch down.

"Because so many of our residents went to their basements, that probably saved their lives," Lehman said.

Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press
Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Meanwhile, the city has turned its attention to the cleanup.

Crews are expected to start making some of the repairs today, including patching up roofs that weren't too badly damaged and going door to door to ensure individual houses are safe.

Lehman said the community has already started coming together to support those who lost the most to the tornado, donating food and supplies.

Most affected residents ended up staying with friends and family.

He noted it's a familiar scene to many longtime Barrie residents. A tornado killed eight people and injured more than 100 others in the city in 1985. Hundreds of homes in the Allendale neighbourhood were destroyed.

"The scenes today are reminiscent of it," Lehman said. "I lived in that neighbourhood as a boy. I mean, it's shocking, you know; you never expected to see it again."

Yesterday's tornado brought back memories for 70-year-old Judy Arksey, too.

"It was like déjà vu," she said. "I got one look at the sky and I knew what was coming."

She was in her daughter's car in the driveway when the tornado ripped down the street. Her two grandchildren — ages six and 16 — were with them.

"I remember the horses being lifted up out of the racetrack during the other tornado, and I thought, here goes our car with my grandkids in it," Arksey said.

As soon as she saw the sky, she said, she told them to look down so they wouldn't see what was coming for them.

Luckily, she said, the car stayed on the ground despite taking a beating in the strong wind, and she and her family escaped injury.

She said the community has come together in the wake of yesterday's destruction, just like it did 36 years ago.

Arksey spent two weeks volunteering after the 1985 tornado, helping out however she could at the church.

"I'm too old to do that this time," she said.

Drone footage to track tornado's path

Gerald Cheng, meteorologist for Environment Canada in Toronto, said on Friday that an EF-2 rating is determined by structural damage, especially to houses. When roofs are removed and exterior walls have collapsed, as they did in this case, wind speeds are estimated to be about 210 kilometres per hour, he said.

More investigation is underway, however, he added.

"We have to work backwards and we have to question: OK, we see such damage, what kind of winds could cause this sort of damage?"

Grant Linton/CBC
Grant Linton/CBC

The Northern Tornadoes Project of Western University, a research group that worked with Environment Canada to determine the rating, is planning to get drone footage to track the path of the tornado. The damage suggests it took a linear path and did not lift off along the way, he said.

"It's not lost on us that 36 years ago there was a devastating tornado that went through Barrie and that killed eight people. So far, we haven't heard any reports of deaths. So that's good," Cheng said.

"But we know that there were injuries from news reports. But in terms of the rarity of this kind of event, I mean, Barrie is situated where thunderstorms do form, and if the thunderstorms get strong enough, then they can cause damage, wind damage or tornadic damage."

Cheng said Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Barrie area at 2:28 p.m. on Thursday and upgraded it to a tornado warning at 2:38 p.m. Residents have told the weather agency that the tornado touched down some time after 2:30 p.m.

Warnings are a "layer of protection" but lead time can be zero when it comes to tornado forecasting, he said.

"It's so important to remember when we are outside to be situationally aware of our surroundings, of the conditions around us. When the weather deteriorates, it's time to head indoors and seek shelter," he said.

"That is something that we want to impress upon the public is that lead time for these events can be next to nothing. Nothing beats being aware of our surroundings."

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