Around 3 p.m. on Thursday, a tornado touched down in Barrie, Ont.’s south end, sending 11 people to hospital and impacting over 140 homes. It has been confirmed that none of the 11 people experienced life-threatening injuries.
The tornado first touched down in a farm field just south of Barrie before tearing through neighbourhoods near Mapleview Drive East and Prince William Way. “Some areas were virtually untouched, others are in complete and utter devastation,” says Peter Leon, spokesperson for the Barrie police. “In places, it appears as if a bomb had gone off.”
According to Leon, the tornado touched down for 15 seconds with many taking refuge in their basements. “There was a lot of weather warnings in the area,” he says. “People took shelter, and when they emerged from their basements and came upstairs, in some cases, they didn’t have roofs.”
Leading up to the tornado, Environment Canada released a severe thunderstorm warning for the area, citing a cold front that was sweeping across southern Ontario. The rainfall in Barrie was so heavy prior to the tornado that Leon describes not being able to see across the parking lot at work.
After the tornado passed, the area experienced two more heavy rainfalls, exacerbating issues for homes that had holes ripped into their roofs.
Other damage included flipped vehicles, broken fences, and destroyed houses. “There was one house in particular, on a corner, that was flattened, literally. The second floor collapsed into the first floor,” Leon says. “But, you know, four doors down, there’s a house that’s literally untouched.”
Many lost power during the storm, and gas was turned off to the area due to a leak. According to a press release from the City of Barrie, as of Friday, less than 20 homes and businesses are still without power, and Enbridge Gas is working to restore gas service to affected customers once it’s safe to do so.
Barrie police, along with members of the OPP and fire services, arrived on scene soon after the tornado hit, going door-to-door to offer assistance where needed and helping anyone unable to evacuate houses that had been impacted.
The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board also chipped in, opening Saint Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School as a shelter for those impacted. “It’s acting as a place where people can come for refuge, and they can come to get guidance and direction on what to do next,” Leon says.
Donations have come pouring in from the Barrie community. In fact, so many donations have been given that the City of Barrie has asked residents to no longer bring donations to the tornado recovery site.
“I am so proud of the response of this city, of the community, of you as residents who are helping each other out on this most difficult day,” said Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman in a video posted to Twitter.
As part of the recovery and clean up effort, the City of Barrie is asking people not to park their cars in the affected area, and to avoid entering impacted homes unless they’ve been deemed safe by the city building officials.