After personally dealing with COVID-19 and trying to keep their Barrie cafe operating throughout the pandemic, the past couple of years have been difficult to say the least for Rene and Tracy Segura, but the pair says Thursday’s tornado has definitely put their lives into perspective.
“You know what’s important for sure. And it’s your family, it’s your community, it’s those loved ones — it is not the material things,” Tracy said, standing alongside Rene.
The couple, who own Creative Bean on Big Bay Point Road just three minutes away, reflected on the local support they received when Rene was diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2020.
“They banded together. They helped us continue our dream of our cafe, to continue to keep the doors open,” he said.
“The amount of support and love that we got from the community, our business was nearly flat-lined, and it was because of our community that our business is in a position now that it was never in before. We’re so much better off because of them … I needed my guy back to help me. At the time, I only had him as my only employee and now we’ve got five,” Tracy added.
It was before 3 p.m. on Thursday when an EF-2 tornado, estimated to have wind speeds of around 210 km/h, caused extensive damage in the southeast Barrie neighbourhood. Driving down Mapleview Drive East, east of Highway 400, some distance away there were other areas that saw lesser damage.
In the suburban neighbourhood near Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East, residents on streets such as Sun King Crescent, Majesty Boulevard, Prince William Way and Succession Crescent bore the brunt of the twister’s force.
Global News observed a wide range of damage where houses with missing roofs and blown out walls and windows were mixed with more minor damage such as ripped off shingles and soffits with intense damage indiscriminately isolated to pockets.
Tracy and Rene were at the cafe when the tornado roared through. They rushed home to check on their son, and although their property only had minor damage, the event weighed heavily on them.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I came out the car and I was in so much disbelief and shock, I started crying,” Tracy said.
“We went through our emotions and our next reaction was, let’s go check on families that we know in the neighbourhood,” Rene added.
While many properties were impacted on the east side of Prince William, to the west it appeared to have more severe damage in certain spots.
“When we saw what happened on the other side, it hits you. There are no words to describe when you’re standing in front of a house that just looks like I can’t describe it… You wonder what were they feeling when they were inside that house and their house got torn apart and how blessed they were that they were not injured, like there were no fatalities throughout this whole thing,” Tracy said.
With a desire to help, they channelled their speciality by setting up a coffee stand outside their Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East-area home Saturday evening. Their front lawn became a temporary refuge from the organized chaos of contractors working away, debris being hauled into dumpsters, and a steady parade of vehicles.
“It turned into this really beautiful donation centre that so many businesses and local community members have so kindly donated food and drinks and diapers and just so many different things,” Tracy said.
“We just want to be able to help our community out the way that they’ve helped us out in the past. Our community means a lot to us and we just wanted to be able to bring some light to this disaster.”
And the Seguras’ decision to host a table wasn’t isolated. Other residents could be seen doing the same thing.
At the corner of Saxon Road and Succession Crescent, Nathan Glahn and Zach Hofer were serving ice cream sandwiches and popsicles out of their new trolley.
“Sergio over there bought the whole stock of ice cream we’ve got in there, and we’re giving it out to people in the area who’ve had to deal with all the damage,” Glahn told Global News.
“Everybody seems pretty grateful and seems pretty happy.”
Thursday was supposed to be a special day for the two business partners. With the help of their parents, they were set to launch their business Popcycle Barrie at Sonder Studio and Events in the city’s north end at a space with around 25 other vendors. However, the weather meant they had to cancel.
“I guess today is our opening day instead,” Glahn said.
“I think it’s pretty crazy. I never pictured a tornado in Barrie. It just doesn’t really come to your mind that often.”
Barrie–Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin, who has been going door to door trying to help residents with cleaning up and navigating emergency supports since Thursday afternoon, said she has been taken back by the support people have been showing each other and how people from outside the neighbourhood have rushed to assist.
“It’s just incredible to see people that have such huge trauma and it’s just the loss of their possessions and the place that they called home. We often say home is where the heart is, but the heart here is really the community,” she told Global News.
Khanjin said pool companies have shown up to provide emergency repair, a hardware store brought over brooms for residents, pizza and sub shops brought over food to give out. She also said utility and insurance companies set up mobile stations to help people who might need assistance as well.
St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Elementary School on Prince William Way became a makeshift tornado response centre and its gym became so jam-packed with community donations that Salvation Army and City of Barrie officials made a plea to temporarily stop with donations because there was no room.
Khanjin said volunteers have occasionally taken to filling wagons with materials and walking down the streets to provide items to people on the spot in case they aren’t able to get to the school or are too shy to seek assistance.
Barrie Ward 9 Coun. Sergio Morales, who represents the constituency west of the main impact zone that also incurred some damage, reflected on the deadly tornado in 1985 that left eight people dead as well as the tornado in 2014.
“This isn’t Barrie’s first time coming together to support each other. In a dark moment like this, what is noticeable is people coming out of their houses and supporting each other,” he said.
Both Morales and Khanjin said recovering personal items and liaising with insurance companies have been among the biggest tasks right now. Also, with potentially dozens of homes expected to be uninhabitable for some time, the search is on to find longer-term housing for some residents.
Anyone who lives in the affected zone who needs assistance accessing their home or has any questions was encouraged to call the tornado response line at 705-728-8442 or visit St. Gabriel school.
Meanwhile, back outside the Seguras’ home, Tracy said she noticed some in the community are turning away donated items because they didn’t incur as much damage as other residents.
“They don’t realize that people are not just giving because you got hurt in the tornado. They’re doing it to lift everybody’s spirits. And it’s bringing such joy to the community to have all this happening. So yeah, there’s wings, there’s popsicles, it’s to make this area happy right now so don’t feel bad taking it,” she said.
Looking forward, the pair said they will be taking a break on Sunday, but will be back on Monday as they are expecting another donation of chicken wings and potentially other items.
“Keep Barrie strong. This community has been through a lot the last couple of days and we want to remind people to stay strong and we will continue and we’ll rebuild. We’ll be stronger,” Rene said before tending to neighbours who queued up waiting to get to the stand.