TORONTO — The cleanup has begun in a Barrie, Ont. neighbourhood after Environment Canada says an EF-2 tornado tore through the area Thursday, injuring at least 10 people and damaging multiple houses in its path.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford toured the area Friday afternoon, joined by Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey, Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin, and solicitor general Sylvia Jones.
The premier called the devastation “shocking” as he pledged his support for those impacted.
Barrie resident Anita Heyworth said Thursday night the storm happened quickly as she pulled into her driveway. “All I saw was this tunnel going down the street and my trampoline from our backyard spinning in the tunnel, and I’m screaming ‘Duck’ to my children because I was afraid of the glass being shattered.”
On Friday, officials at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre said 10 people were admitted to the hospital, two with serious but non-life-threatening injuries. They said most were treated and released.
Tyler Musgrove said he was injured by flying debris. “I’m lucky I survived it, to be honest. It was probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been apart of. I got seven stitches in my right arm, and I got cuts and bruises all over me from stuff hitting me.”
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman credited the fast work of the city’s emergency responders and neighbouring York Region who rushed to the area.
“The character of a community is defined by its response to its most difficult days, and this is one of them,” Lehman said Thursday night.
Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize said by 3 p.m. Thursday, they received “hundreds of calls reporting wires down, gas leaks, damaged and destroyed buildings.”
The fire chief said 20 to 25 homes suffered structural damage, and “two or three” were destroyed.
On Friday, police started escorting some residents back into their homes for whatever possessions could be recovered.
“The work will continue today to assess house by house, the condition of buildings and try to get everyone the help they need,” Lehman added.
Morning update from Prince William Way after yesterday’s tornado. pic.twitter.com/ezdAhLu4IG
— Jeff Lehman (@Mayor_Jeff) July 16, 2021
ANALYZING THE STORM
In a preliminary report issued Friday morning, the national weather agency says that the tornado caused a path of damage approximately five kilometres long and up to 100 metres wide in the city north of Toronto.
The twister had a maximum wind speed of 210 km/h, Environment Canada said, and there may have been additional damage as the storm moved out of the city and over Lake Simcoe.
Meteorologists anticipated severe weather on Thursday, with radar showing thunderstorms that intensified rapidly.
“When you get that combination of a lot of instability and a lot of shear, you start getting very organized thunderstorms. Then you get supercell thunderstorms, and supercell thunderstorms can produce strong, violent tornadoes,” explained Dr. David Sills, Northern Tornadoes Project.
BARRIE TORNADO 1985
Heyworth said the destruction on Thursday brought her back to 36 years ago, when an EF-4 tornado ripped through the city’s Allandale area, killing eight people, including four children, and injuring more than 100 others.
“I remember the tornado. I remember going through the rubble looking for family photos. This brought back so many memories. The scare that this brought back is unbelievable.”
On May 31, 1985, residents of Barrie had no warning when the twister touched down.
Six hundred homes were ripped from their foundations as the storm shredded neighbourhoods.
“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.”
Rebuilding took years and what would now be roughly one billion dollars.
With files from Ryan Flanagan