July 31, 2017 3:55 pm
Updated: July 31, 2017 4:25 pm

Edmonton broadcasters remember covering Black Friday tornado

Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block was a seven-year veteran of the local fire department when the tornado hit on July 31, 1987. He was deployed to the city's southeast

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Edmonton marked a sombre, 30-year anniversary on Monday.

On July 31, 1987, a tornado carved a path through east Edmonton. Twenty-seven people were killed by the F4 twister, which also injured 600 people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

READ MORE: Edmonton marks sombre 30-year anniversary of deadly Black Friday tornado 

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Retired broadcaster Gord Whitehead was working at CJCA that day. He arrived in the newsroom shortly before 3 p.m. that afternoon and by the time he was scheduled to be on-air, he described the situation as “pandemonium.”

Whitehead told 630 CHED’s Bruce Bowie that it was a time before cell phones, so calls only started to trickle in after the disaster.

“We had people phoning from out in the industrial parks, out around Sherwood Park, saying that they had seen fatalities, that they knew people had been killed,” he said.

“We couldn’t report that. There were protocols that you had to work through and we didn’t want to alarm people more than they already were. People were scared.”

He said, as a broadcaster, it’s not the kind of thing you’re ever fully prepared to cover.

“There’s no rehearsal for it,” Whitehead said. “I’d never been through anything like that before.”

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At the time, Murray Blakely was the air traffic reporter on CHQR, now iNews880. He witnessed the aftermath from the air.

“Like train cars being blown over,” he recalled. “Automobiles in a parking lot tossed onto the Sherwood Park freeway.”

Blakely remembers one striking image of a house with a garage beside it.

“That garage did not belong to that house,” he said. “It was blown in and landed on the garage of the house that was there.”

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READ MORE: What’s changed in weather forecasting in the 30 years since Black Friday?

The deadly storm prompted the Canadian government to get the first Doppler radar for the area, which tracks winds and can better predict what storms are doing.

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