Residents clean up tornado’s devastation, while officials add up costs

The RM of Alonsa and provincial Emergency Measures Organization officials were still assessing the damage Tuesday of a category EF-4 tornado that wreaked havoc along a 14.5-kilometre path Friday night, killing a 77-year-old man, destroying homes and tossing vehicles into Lake Manitoba at Margaret Bruce Beach.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/08/2018 (1517 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The RM of Alonsa and provincial Emergency Measures Organization officials were still assessing the damage Tuesday of a category EF-4 tornado that wreaked havoc along a 14.5-kilometre path Friday night, killing a 77-year-old man, destroying homes and tossing vehicles into Lake Manitoba at Margaret Bruce Beach.

“We should know better (Wednesday),” said Coun. Terry Dayholos, when asked about anticipated clean-up costs and a damage estimate. “Right now, we’re just letting everyone salvage what they can.”

He said the first priority was to arrange for temporary housing for those who lost their homes.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mennonite volunteers from Ontario walk fields picking up debris Tuesday after a tornado ripped through the Alonsa Manitoba area Friday.

Clean-up won’t be easy, Dayholos added, as the municipality lacks the equipment to pull vehicles — and other undetermined debris — out of the lake.

The RM council is meeting Wednesday morning to discuss recovery plans. Local politicians were to tour the damaged area with emergency measures staff Tuesday afternoon.

The municipality declared a state of emergency Saturday morning.

On Tuesday, volunteers continued to help tornado victims clean up private properties.

Questions continued to swirl about poor cellphone service in the area that prevented adequate community notification of the approaching twister.

At an unrelated news conference Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister said he was told on the weekend that the community had mobile telephone service “two or three months ago” and then lost it. He said he wants to know why.

“I would like to see the service back for the people of that area for their safety. But I want to find out the reasons why it wasn’t there,” he said.

Dayholos said cellphone service became nearly non-existent in the community in late June after BellMTS came out to upgrade a tower and install LTE service.

“I live four miles away from the tower, and I have one bar,” he said, referring to the strength of signal on his cellphone. On Saturday, when he first surveyed the damage, he had to drive closer to his home before he could report back to the municipality’s chief administrative officer.

BellMTS declined to comment Tuesday. Over the weekend, it issued a statement saying that public alerts on any cellphone service provider’s phones equipped with LTE wireless technology can only be received if those phones are connected to an LTE network. Much of the Alonsa area is serviced by networks which predate that technology, the company said.

The Pallister government was supportive of Bell’s acquisition of MTS in 2016. The new owner promised to invest a billion dollars in system improvements over the next five years. In May of that year, Pallister attended an announcement in Morris at which the company announced plans to eliminate dead zones for wireless service along Highway 75.

On Tuesday, the premier hinted that there would be an announcement of system improvements in southeast Manitoba in the “not-too-distant future.”

Pallister acknowledged that there are many areas of the province where cellphone service is weak or non-existent.

ANDREW RYAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

“Let’s not be naive,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to get 100 per cent emergency warning systems in every part of our province. It’s just too big and it’s too sparsely populated in certain areas for that to be practical.”

However, he said he’s expecting to receive answers in the next “couple of days” as to what occurred in Alonsa.

“In this particular case, I think the community deserves to get some answers as to what is the problem and how can we address it,” he said.

On Monday, he told the Free Press that it was “premature” to say whether the province would consider incentives to improve coverage in the area.

Pallister, who visited the site of the devastation on Monday, paid tribute to volunteers who are helping to clean up the community — as well as to Manitoba Hydro for quickly restoring power in the area.

Statement from Telus on Tuesday

“Although wireless coverage has recently been enhanced in Alonsa, it appears some customers do not have consistent access to LTE technology, which is required to receive wireless public alerts. While TELUS does not own or maintain the cell towers in the area, this is a priority for us and we are working with our network partner, Bell MTS, to address the service challenges.”

“We lost a life and that’s a tragedy, but it could have been so, so much worse…” he said, adding that everybody in the community is “appreciative that there wasn’t more injury.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Manitoba EMO said Tuesday it was too early to estimate the cost of clean-up and property loss.

EMO administers Disaster Financial Assistance in Manitoba. Those impacted by the tornado may contact Manitoba EMO at 1-888-267-8298 or 204-945-3050 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, for assistance, the spokesman said.

Manitoba Public Insurance said only a small number of vehicle claims had been reported from the area by mid-afternoon on Tuesday. A spokeswoman said that is not surprising given the “overall devastation that area residents are dealing with.”

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.


Updated on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 8:29 PM CDT: removes slideshow due to system formatting issue

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