'We were watching the trees come down in every direction': 3 injured in Sask. storm

'We were watching the trees come down in every direction': 3 injured in Sask. storm

Environment Canada is dispatching a team to Meadow Lake Provincial Park in Saskatchewan to better assess what kind of weather event tore through the area, uprooting trees and flipping trailers.

Residents of the Murray Doell campground and Lauman's Landing recreational subdivision, about 360 km north of Saskatoon, reported seeing a tornado touch down on Saturday. One person was reported missing and three people were injured as a result of the storm, which hit around 5 p.m. CST, bringing with it rain, strong winds and large hailstones. 

The RCMP, which co-ordinated search and rescue efforts to find the missing hiker, say she was found uninjured following a ground and air search. 

Park officials agreed to give CBC an official tour of the devastation on Sunday Morning. Thousands of large trees had broken off, many of them crashing onto trailers, pickup trucks and even tents. 

People had arrived at the campground and at Lauman's Landing, a subdivision with cabins and recreational vehicles, for the long weekend.

Park officials, like evacuees, say it's "miraculous" no one was killed. 

Several fixed structures such as bathrooms and post office boxes were uprooted from their concrete bases and lay on their sides. Evacuees are not yet being allowed in, except for those needing medications or other emergency supplies. 

Several crews are working quickly to cut and remove trees from the roadways and the structures.

Officials say it could be hours before everyone is allowed back in to collect their belongings. They are asking everyone to be patient.

At the command post. evacuees say they're grateful that the damage to people and property was not worse.

Jason Warick/CBC Saskatoon

"It just hit so fast," said Heather Ross.

Ross and her husband, Ian, said they were terrified, as was their border collie Reign, as they listened to trees fall on their camper roof yesterday. 

Sudden change to a sunny day

Jim and Carmella Grimstad, who own the campground ice cream shop, said it was a beautiful sunny day until they noticed a relatively small cloud descend rapidly at 4:15 p.m. 

It began with heavy rainfall which was followed soon after by large hail. The Grimstads scrambled to run inside the ice cream shop but the storm was so severe they couldn't get to the north-facing main door and had to jump in through a side window instead. 

"We were watching the trees come down in every direction on us, on everyone. I was so scared," Carmella said. Evacuees all say they are grateful for the rapid response of officials and volunteers from Goodsoil, Meadow Lake and other communities. 

"I am so thankful to everyone. They've been incredible," said Jim Grimstad.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has said that three people were transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Craig Eling, his wife and two children, aged six and four, made it to Murray Doell campground on Saturday afternoon. 

After setting up camp and seeing storm clouds, Eling hung a tarp off two big spruce trees and set off for firewood. 

"I got maybe 100 metres down the road and the hail just came, and it was probably golf-ball sized," said Eling. "I was in the minivan and it sounded like gunshots when those big ones would hit the windshields and the top of the van."

He was worried that the hail would come through the tent where his wife and children were, and set off back to camp but broken trees blocked his way. Then, the weather got even worse. 

"Everything just went sideways," he said. "The hail and the rain were just moving so fast it was just, like, white. It was like being in a blizzard in a way. And then the trees just started coming down."

Eling's dashcam video shows trees snapping and falling onto roads, sometimes just narrowly missing his van. Unable to drive any further, Eling got out of his car and ran through the hail, rain and felled trees.

Narrow miss for campers

When he got back to the campsite he found the two spruce trees that held their tarp had fallen.

"My wife said it was so loud, just the wind, that they didn't know a tree had fallen," said Eling. Branches and the two trunks came close to hitting the tent, he said. 

"It was a matter of feet, it was a matter of feet, and it would have come down on top of them."

Dan Kulak, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said personnel should be on site by Sunday afternoon, at which time, they'll work to determine exactly what happened.

"We have seen some videos that look like there were tornadoes in the area of the campground on the shores of the lake in the Meadow Lake provincial park," he said. "Whether the damage in the campground was specifically caused by a tornado is something we have not yet determined." 

Keep an eye on the sky

Kulak said these types of conditions are not uncommon when it comes to strong summer storms, noting the period of time between late June and July is usually well suited to produce extreme weather. 

"It's just the time of year that we have to keep our eye on the sky and be weather aware," he said.

"Summer storms can certainly bring a whole spectrum of damages." 

Based on early damage observations, he said it's possible winds reached above 100 kilometres an hour, though it's too early to determine top windspeeds. 

"We really cannot say right now how strong the winds may have been in the area, but certainly we're seeing trailers that have been flipped or moved. That usually takes winds somewhere in the 100-kilometre-hour range or higher," he said. 

"Again that's not saying that that's the strongest they got, but that's probably a minimum that we're looking at."

He said there was relief there was no loss of life as a result of the weather event. 

"We always hope that when storms happen that we do not have injuries or fatalities," he said. 

Kulak said it's likely Environment Canada will be providing an update later this afternoon.

SaskPower spokesman Jordan Jackle said the damage done to power infrastructure in the area was extensive. Multiple downed lines are being repaired and around 1,000 customers are without service.

Crews were dispatched to the scene of the storm on Saturday night to turn off the power running to lines and assess the damage. Power was restored to the town of Meadow Lake, Green Lake and Big Island First Nation shortly after 12:30, while the lights should come back on at 7:00 p.m. in Lac Des Iles.

SaskPower said that there was still no estimate for when power will be back on in other communities. 

SaskTel customers were also affected by the power outage. 

John Purves, the mayor of Goodsoil, was in the campground before emergency crews arrived.

He said the scene was chaos, with camp trailers crushed, trucks with trees through the windshield and a boat that had been smashed by a large tree.

"It was a pretty devastating mess," he said. 

Despite the chaos, however, he said the community opened its doors to those in need, with one home sheltering 15 people from three families from the storm. 

"It's what I got used to in this community. I've lived here since 1972 and it's what they do," he said of this willingness to help. "They're very friendly, very open and when there's a problem in the community, they pull and they all pull together."

He said people were dropping off toys, food and blankets to those who needed help. 

"It's not just my community," he said. "It's that larger community of the northwest of Alberta and Saskatchewan."