July 3, 2020

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Family recounts Alonsa tornado

'When the swirling, chaotic wind was gone, we all looked up and it was just sky'

The basement remnants of the Cabak family cabin are all that’s left of it following the category 4 tornado that touched down in Alonsa, Man. Friday. (Supplied)</p>

The basement remnants of the Cabak family cabin are all that’s left of it following the category 4 tornado that touched down in Alonsa, Man. Friday. (Supplied)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/8/2018 (696 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One minute the Cabak family was in the basement, the next they were on the main floor — and there was no roof over their heads.

Laura Cabak and 13 others huddled in the basement corner of their cabin when the deadly tornado tore through rural Manitoba Friday night.

Cabak, her husband, their two kids, nine other relatives and one family friend held onto one another as intense winds battered the structure on the family farm in Alonsa.

KIM HINES PHOTO</p><p>A tornado that touched down in Alonsa Friday killed a 77-year-old man, sent two to hospital and left others with cuts and scrapes, Environment Canada said Sunday.</p></p>

KIM HINES PHOTO

A tornado that touched down in Alonsa Friday killed a 77-year-old man, sent two to hospital and left others with cuts and scrapes, Environment Canada said Sunday.

"When the swirling, chaotic wind was gone, we all looked up and it was just sky," she said. "There was nothing left above us. It was gone — and my dog was gone."

All she remembers before the bungalow vanished into the sky was her ears popping amid a sudden pressure change and hearing the sound of screaming children.

The tornado went right over their cabin, Cabak said. Her 15-year-old son looked up and saw the walls fold in and disappear in the storm, the mother of two added.

The floor lifted up and vanished, said Bill Ralph, who was huddled downstairs with his wife, 11-year-old son and the rest of the family.

“As bad as it was, the outcome was amazing: 14 of us went into that basement and 14 came out.” –Bill Ralph

"The storm couldn’t have hit us in a more direct, horrific way," said Ralph, who is married to Cabak’s sister-in-law. "As bad as it was, the outcome was amazing: 14 of us went into that basement and 14 came out."

A photo of the tornado that touched down north of Silver Ridge Friday evening.

CLINT ROBERTSON PHOTO

A photo of the tornado that touched down north of Silver Ridge Friday evening.

Only the basement remnants are left of their family cabin; Cabak said she believes everything else is in pieces scattered across Alonsa, the municipality about 65 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg that’s home to her in-laws’ farm, where up until Friday night, the Cabak cabin stood.

The cabin is about 130 metres off of Lake Manitoba, Cabak said, adding that another cabin on their family farm was also destroyed.

The farm is just north of Margaret Bruce Beach, where the tornado touched down around 8:30 p.m. Friday, debarking and splitting trees, flipping campers and sending a truck and bales of hay into the lake in its wake.

Environment Canada said the Category 4 tornado lasted about 45 minutes and winds are estimated to have been as fast as 280 km/h.

The buildings surrounding the toilets at Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa were completely destroyed by a tornado Friday night. Only the toilets themselves remained.

MELISSA VERGE/THE BRANDON SUN

The buildings surrounding the toilets at Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa were completely destroyed by a tornado Friday night. Only the toilets themselves remained.

Cabak, who lives in Winnipeg, said her family made the 21/2-hour drive to Alonsa from their home in Linden Woods to spend a week with family.

The kids were playing video games indoors on Friday night, she said, adding that they initially thought it was a regular thunderstorm.

Then she got an emergency alert on her phone, which she said was lucky because her husband had installed a booster a few days earlier.

"Normally at that cabin, we get no signal at all."

At first there was rain, then there was hail. "Thunder, lightning, hail, that’s nothing unusual, but my sister motioned me to go outside, pointed up at the clouds and we could see the swirling."

Each person entered the basement through a trap door, Cabak said.

After the building disappeared, the family climbed out of the remains and ran to Cabak’s in-laws’ home. There they joined another 15 or so people already hiding from the storm. It was "absolutely chaotic," Ralph said.

Environment Canada initially rated the storm a three out of five on the tornado severity scale. After looking through more information Monday, Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist at the weather agency, said they increased the number to a Category 4.

Shawn Gurke, a resident of Alonsa, watches a truck floating in Lake Manitoba after a tornado hit on Friday. (Melissa Verge / Brandon Sun)</p>

Shawn Gurke, a resident of Alonsa, watches a truck floating in Lake Manitoba after a tornado hit on Friday. (Melissa Verge / Brandon Sun)

The least severe tornadoes are classified as EF-0 on the Fujita scale, the most severe EF-5.

"EF-3 is already really significant," she said. "EF-4 is described as devastating damage. We’re talking about relatively well-constructed houses being torn.

"Imagine a small house being swept clean off its foundation. That’s what we saw. And unfortunately, roofs were collapsed. There were injuries, also the fatality. We’ve been quite lucky there haven’t been more."

Ember the dog was found safe, roaming around the beach after the tornado. (Supplied)</p>

Ember the dog was found safe, roaming around the beach after the tornado. (Supplied)

Ralph said that what happened to his and Cabak’s family was nothing short of a miracle.

"I am so thankful every one us is OK," he said.

Finding the dog after the sky cleared was another miracle, Cabak said. On the cluttered beachfront, which Cabak said resembled a "war zone," her husband found their golden retriever Ember roaming around, unharmed.

"People keep telling us we should rename her Lucky, but I think we’re going to stick with Ember."

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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