'Absolutely devastating,' Ford says province will help residents after tornado rips through Barrie
Published Friday, July 16, 2021 5:27AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 16, 2021 2:26PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford said the province "will have people's back" after a tornado ripped through part of the city leaving at least 10 people injured and dozens of homes damaged.
On Friday afternoon, Ford, along with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, visited the neighbourhood that was destroyed by Thursday's tornado.
"This is absolutely of course heart wrenching but devastating. Just thank god no one was killed, it's an absolute miracle," Ford said after touring the site.
At around 2:40 p.m. on Thursday, an EF-2 tornado touched down in the southern part of the city, tracking from the miniature golf course on Huronia Road and Mapleview Drive and continuing east towards Prince William Way, according to Environment Canada.
The powerful tornado produced winds of up to 210 kilometres per hour and left many homes severely damaged, uprooted trees, caused at least one car to flip over and left roughly 9,000 homes and businesses without power.
Ten people were treated in hospital with two suffering from serious but non-life threatening injuries, according to the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie. The rest of the injured individuals were treated and discharged home.
“Fortunately, incredibly, no life-threatening injuries. We had a door to door search and a secondary search last night, we believe everyone has been accounted for and that is truly the astonishing thing when you see these vehicles turned upside down and homes that came down pancaked or destroyed, that nobody lost their life here is nothing short of incredible,” Mayor Lehman said to CP24.
He noted there are 60 houses in the neighbourhood considered uninhabitable.
Ford said the province will help those affected and will help homeowners if insurance doesn't cover any damages to their property.
"We're going to be here supporting them, if insurance doesn't cover then we're going to step up and help them out. We're just going to be in communications with the mayor and for their request but anything the city needs we're going to be there for them," he said.
Lehman said police are currently helping impacted residents go through their homes to collect items.
“Some [homes] are not going to be able to be restored, there are some that are destroyed or others that likely won't won't be repairable. But for many whose homes were heavily damaged the police are now scoring those residents in to try and help them get into get what they need,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, Alectra said roughly 20 homes and businesses are still without power in The Prince William Way and Mapleview Dr. East area, and that 68 of the homes were heavily damaged by the tornado.
Meanwhile, Enbridge said gas service for approximately 600 customers remains interrupted as a safety precaution.
"We are working closely with the City of Barrie, Alectra and Emergency Services to coordinate the restoration of gas service to those customers, once it is deemed safe to do so. Some homes will require an engineering assessment and approval prior to service restoration," a spokesperson from Enbridge said in a statement to CP24.
Jack Beaver’s home was significantly impacted by the tornado which tore part of his roof off and destroyed his backyard.
He told CP24 Friday morning that he was sitting in his garage when he realized the tornado was coming his way.
“We’ve seen a bunch of garbage cans spinning around, it was coming closer so we went in. I went upstairs to get my wife out of bed and grandson. By the time we got down it was gone, the roof right off the garage,” he said.
An evacuation centre has been opened at Saint Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School. It is unknown how many people were displaced by the tornado.
Donations have been pouring in but as of Friday afternoon the city is no longer accepting donations at the school.
The Salvation Army will distribute the collected donations to those in need and arrange for pickup of perishables and large quantities of certain items, the city said. Those who want to offer their assistance or donate can also be added to a wait list by emailing ServiceBarrie@barrie.ca.
Monetary donations can be made to the Salvation Army by dropping them off at their 16 Bayfield St. location or by visiting their website.
Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke to CP24 Friday morning and said the tornado is “devastating” and that he offered the city’s support to Barrie.
“I reached out to Mayor Jeff Lehman last night who’s a very solid guy and they’re lucky to have somebody as solid as him there to sort of deal with the aftermath there and offered Toronto’s help. I said anything we could send up, anything we can do.”
TORNADO WARNING ISSUED MINUTES BEFORE IT TOUCHED DOWN
Environment Canada first issued a tornado warning for all of Central Ontario two minutes before the tornado hit on Thursday, warning residents in Innisfil, New Tecumseth, Angus, Orillia, Lagoon City, Washago, Barrie, Collingwood and Hillsdale to “take cover immediately” if threatening weather approaches.
The national weather agency sent out a team to Barrie Thursday afternoon to confirm if the storm was in fact a tornado.
Early Friday morning, Environment Canada released the results from a damage survey that confirmed the city was hit by an EF-2 tornado with a path of destruction of about 5 kilometres long and up to 100 metres wide.
The Enhanced Fujita scale is used to rate the intensity of tornadoes. EF-5 is the highest level with tornadoes that produce wind speeds of more than 315 kilometres per hour.
Thursday’s storm was reminiscent of the tornado that hit Barrie 36 years ago, Lehman said. The 1985 EF-4 tornado killed eight people from Barrie and destroyed 600 homes.
CP24 Meteorologist Bill Coulter said Thursday’s tornado wasn’t as strong as the one 36 years ago but still significantly powerful.
“They had winds clocked from what I’ve read at 415 kilometres per hour, so almost double what they saw here yesterday,” Coulter said.
“There was a hundred million dollars in damage at that point, 800 people were left homeless and now that's not to say yesterday’s tornado wasn’t incredibly significant. You don’t often see EF-2s,” he added.
'IT LOOKS LIKE A DISASTER OUT OF A MOVIE'
Ward 6 city councillor in Barrie Natalie Harris was with her son at his home Thursday afternoon and went into the basement seconds before the tornado hit.
“There wasn't even maybe 30 seconds that we were in the basement and the power went out and right away we knew, like the noise was just, everything was just breaking and shaking and loud and dust was coming down the stairs,” she told CP24 on Friday.
“It looks like a disaster out of a movie. And I saw the sky, I came upstairs and the door was stuck. I couldn't even open the basement door, and the sky was there because the roof is gone,” she added.
When Harris eventually walked outside, she said she was speechless after seeing the significant damage.
“Installation was falling from the sky. I was like what is even happening, how is this happening right now.”
Harris said the community immediately came together to help everyone in need.
“It was just amazing, the community, so amazing. I can't even, there's so many people that have reached out, there's so many offers of help. It’s weird, you know, because we've been so hidden from each other with COVID, and that was not a priority. We needed each other, absolutely needed each other,” she said.
'THE INGREDIENTS WERE THERE FOR THIS TO HAPPEN'
Senior climatologist at Environment Canada Dave Phillips said the right factors were in play for a tornado to occur Thursday afternoon.
“Several days before we've had some, you know, tornado-like conditions. Heat, humidity and dark skies and lots of lightning and thunder. So, it was almost as if the ingredients were there for this to happen,” he told CP24 on Friday.
Phillips, however, said he was surprised that nature didn’t give us a heads up that a tornado was on its way.
“You know the sky turns dark, there's green, green in the sky, there's lightning and thunder and it's raining and the wild winds and then all of a sudden you hear about a touchdown a distance away, but there was none of that,” he said.
Phillips said Barrie has unfortunately been hit by tornadoes due to its position near Lake Simcoe.
“You often get lake breezes coming in from Huron, Georgian Bay and Lake Erie and often those lake breezes give you...all that heat and humidity gets kind of shoved up into the atmosphere, starts rotating clouds from...And then of course there was the cold front coming through and that is really the yeast in the bread making,” he said.
Phillips said approximately 12 to 14 tornadoes touch down in Ontario every year.
With files from CP24's Bryann Aguilar and Chris Fox.