Eleven people were injured and about 25 buildings damaged in Barrie, Ont., Thursday, after a tornado tore through a southeast neighbourhood in the city north of Toronto, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Environment Canada said early Friday that the tornado had a preliminary rating of EF-2 with wind speeds up to 210 km/h. A damage survey team concluded that the tornado’s path was about five kilometres long and up to 100 metres wide at some points.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman told CBC News this morning that a total of 11 people were injured, after paramedics had initially put the figure at eight.
Four of those people were taken to hospital, said Andrew Robert, chief of Simcoe Paramedic Services, at a news conference Thursday night. Paramedics also set up a triage area at Saint Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School on Prince William Way, in the southeast neighbourhood of the city that was most severely affected by the tornado.
Of the 25 buildings that were damaged, three were demolished, officials said at the news conference.
“I can’t tell you how incredible it is that nobody has been killed,” Lehman said
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is set to visit the city later this morning to meet with first responders.
Residents emerged from their basements to find caved-in walls, roofs torn off destroyed buildings, flipped cars, broken gas lines and downed wires — and sirens wailing all around them.
“This is an incredibly difficult day,” Lehman said at the conference. “We will respond and rebuild, most of all we want to make sure everyone is safe.”
Lehman said he was heartened to see “incredible offers” from people showing up with water, food, and other supplies for their neighbours.
After the tornado touched down, emergency workers responded to “multiple reports of damage” in the southeast part of the city.
‘The damage is catastrophic’
“The damage is catastrophic. It is significant. It is major,” Barrie police spokesperson Peter Leon said during the emergency response, urging people to stay away from the area.
Environment Canada had issued tornado warnings across the region throughout the afternoon, but downgraded those warnings across Ontario in the hours after the twister tore through Barrie.
In the hours after the tornado touched down, Barrie residents took to social media, posting photos and videos of destruction caused by the storm. Many homes had damage to roofs, backyards and fences.
Those images on social media along with Environment Canada’s own data helped confirm the storm was a tornado, said the agency’s warning preparedness meteorologist Geoff Coulson. He said the tornado touched down around 2:30 p.m., just minutes after Environment Canada upgraded its tornado watch to warning.
Neighbourhoods near Mapleview Drive East and Prince William Way in the southeast part of the city took the brunt of the damage.
After the storm, some residents drove around assessing damage, which included flipped vehicles, and destroyed fences.
“There is extensive damage from the tornado touchdown in the area of Prince William Way and Mapleview in SE Barrie,” Lehman said in a tweet. “Please avoid the area as emergency crews are focused on making sure everyone is safe.”
Barrie Police, with assistance from OPP and fire services, said they were going door-to-door to check on residents in the Mapleview area.
“My thoughts are with everyone in Barrie and Innisfil affected by the severe weather today,” Ford said in a tweet. “A big thank you to our first responders that are currently on the ground helping the situation. Please stay safe everyone!”
‘Houses that have come off their foundations’
“There’s houses that have come off their foundation, obviously lots of roofs that have been blown off,” Barrie-Innisfil Member of Parliament John Brassard told CBC News. “I’ve seen trampolines in people’s pools, so the damage is quite devastating.
Brassard is in the area checking on friends and residents. He noted the smell of gas near several homes as barbecues had been “ripped right from the gas line,” he said.
“Gas crews are here, water crews are here. They’re doing everything they can to shut things down,” Brassard said. “And right now, police are going door to door just to make sure that everybody is accounted for.”
“This is going to be a long operation because the damage is that extensive,” he added.
Ward 6 city councillor Natalie Harris was visiting her son and ex-husband when the tornado hit their neighbourhood. They quickly ran to the basement just as it struck the house.
“We could hear the tornado above us,” she said. “The house was shaking. It happened so fast, we had no idea when it would finish.”
Harris assessed the house and neighbourhood after and said there was “so much destruction,” and that the entire street was damaged.
“Everything’s just destroyed,” Harris said. “I can’t believe it.”
Environment Canada had first issued a severe thunderstorm watch just before noon for Barrie, Midland, and Orillia. That was upgraded to a tornado warning by early afternoon which ended just before 3 p.m. ET.
By 3 p.m., Environment Canada issued another tornado warning for Newmarket, Georgina, Uxbridge and surrounding areas, but had ended it by 3:30 p.m. A tornado warning was also in effect for the Peterborough-Kawartha Lakes area.
The storm also touched down in nearby Keswick, Ont., but whether that was also a tornado remains to be determined, Coulson said.
“It looks like, as it’s moving further east, it will start to weaken somewhat, but it is still going to be a very dangerous storm for the next little while,” he said.
“It is also important to remind folks that it does continue to be an ongoing situation, (thunderstorm) watches continue to be in effect for much of southern and eastern Ontario, and there is still a potential for damaging storms to occur through the late afternoon and evening hours in parts of the province.”
Residents in area recall the moment tornado hit
Residents in the area recalled the moment when the tornado struck.
“My buddy said he’ll go check on his boat. He came back home and his house was totalled,” Shane said. “Roof ripped off, and his trailer was in the neighbour’s driveway.
Olivia Michalski was on the way home when the tornado tore through the area. When she arrived her neighbour told her she had seen the tornado’s funnel clouds and ran into the basement.
“It just went by us by a couple streets,” Michalski said. “Thankfully, I wasn’t near where the tornado touched, my parents were home at the time and they didn’t even know what was happening.”
Tracy Miller remembers the tornado that hit Barrie in 1985, and she experienced her second tornado Thursday. Her grandmother’s house, she said, was demolished.
“You don’t think you’ll be in that twice in one lifetime,” she said. “My heart goes out to all those in Barrie today.”