More than 100 people have been displaced and 10 people were treated at hospital following a tornado that ravaged Barrie, Ont.’s south end on Thursday and caused extensive structural damage to several homes, local mayor Jeff Lehman confirmed.
About 60 homes have also been deemed unsafe by city building inspectors, and officials are advising residents to stay out of damaged buildings until they can be assessed and temporarily repaired.
On Friday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited the area where the twister touched down and surveyed some of the damage caused by the storm.
“There’s so much support coming in from all over the province for the people,” Ford said Friday. “I just want to reassure them, we’re going to be here and we’re going to get them back on their feet and support them in any way we can.”
If insurance doesn’t cover the damage, Ford said the province will step up to help. He also said he will continue to be in communication with the Barrie mayor.
“It’s shocking, it’s heartbreaking,” Ford said of Thursday’s disaster. “We’ll be inspecting the houses … to make sure that they met the building codes.”
Ontario solicitor general Sylvia Jones told reporters that the province hasn’t needed to provide Barrie with assistance yet, though that’s expected to change as the cleanup continues.
Lehman said it’s “extraordinary” that no lives were lost as a result of the tornado, though he said 10 people were sent to the local hospital with injuries, none of which were life-threatening.
“There were 10 brought to RVH (Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre),” Lehman said. “All but two have been released, I’m pleased to say. There were two with more serious injuries. They remain at RVH.”
On Friday, Environment Canada confirmed the tornado’s strength as category EF-2, with maximum wind speeds of 210 km/h. Most of the damage appears to have occurred on about five or six streets near Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East.
Lehman said dozens of families have been helped by the Red Cross at the city’s local evacuation centre. He also noted that officials started assessing every building in the disaster area.
Videos and images shared online show the devastation left by the tornado on Thursday. Some roofs were lifted off homes, while vehicles were flipped over, and debris was scattered around yards and streets.
Barrie–Innisfil MP John Brassard told Global News he was pulling into his office on Thursday when he noticed the storm coming.
“You could feel the temperature drop and the winds picked up,” he said. “I didn’t see the tornado itself, but you could certainly tell with the front coming in that there was lots of wind.”
Brassard heard sirens and noticed firefighters were responding to building collapses in the area of Prince William and Mapleview.
“I called the mayor right away and said to Jeff, ‘I think a tornado has gone through,'” he said. “It’s five minutes down the road from my office, so I came up and grabbed one of my staff and we went to have a look.”
At first, Brassard said he saw some damage and downed trees. Then, as he walked further down the path, he saw fences that were down and shingles that were blown off roofs.
“As we started getting closer, you could see the actual structural damage,” Brassard added. “There was a building collapse at Mapleview and Yonge and then roofs ripped off houses.”
The local MP said he smelled natural gas in the air and helped some people to make sure their barbecue valves were off.
“The former firefighter in me kicked in at that point … because I spent 30.5 years as a firefighter in Markham,” he said. “It’s a miracle that nobody was killed.”
Brassard said he was on the phone with Service Canada Friday morning and that the agency is prepared to work with residents regarding any issues related to federal services — for example, if social insurance cards or passports were lost.
“There’s been no formal request for any help from the federal government,” Brassard said. “Everything seems to be stabilized at the local level, both from an emergency response standpoint and the aftereffects of the incident.”
Lehman said Barrie Police were escorting some residents back into their damaged homes on Friday to get things like medication, treasured possessions and any pets that might have still been in residences.
As of Friday afternoon, the local mayor said Prince William Way is cleaned up, though it isn’t open to traffic yet. He also said officials are going door-to-door to help people get the power back on safely.
“Insurance companies are arriving and disaster companies, too, to assist people in their homes,” Lehman said.
“We’ve had so many donations up at St. Gabes of food, clothing and everything. We’re actually asking people not to drop off physical donations right now. We don’t have anywhere to keep that at the moment onsite, and frankly, we’ve got a lot more than we need.”
Officials said the Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations.
Alectra Utilities also said it’s received reports of scammers posing as Alectra employees who are going door-to-door asking Barrie residents for money to inspect their home post-tornado.
“This is NOT Alectra,” the company said on Twitter. “Please be cautious and notify local law enforcement if you encounter these fraudsters.”
Lehman said community members are supporting each other through the disaster and cleanup.
“Even those who are so shaken up by the events of yesterday and who’ve lost so much are greeting this with tremendous Barrie spirit,” he said.
“They’re even cracking jokes.”
— With files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues and Nick Westoll