August 18, 2018

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Man dead after tornado touches down near Alonsa

Cellphone service with weather alerts in the Alonsa area saved at least two couples from being caught in Friday night’s tornado but lack of it left many others in the path of the deadly storm.

A tornado that touched down just before 9 p.m. in the RM of Alonsa, located on the west side of Lake Manitoba about 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, caused mass destruction in the Margaret Bruce campground, beach and area.

Photos and video widely shared on social media showed multiple buildings shredded by the twister, campers flipped, vehicles crushed and at least one trailer thrown into the lake by the vicious winds.

Environment Canada confirmed Saturday that the tornado touched down west of Lake Manitoba on Friday night.

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Cellphone service with weather alerts in the Alonsa area saved at least two couples from being caught in Friday night’s tornado but lack of it left many others in the path of the deadly storm.

A tornado that touched down just before 9 p.m. in the RM of Alonsa, located on the west side of Lake Manitoba about 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, caused mass destruction in the Margaret Bruce campground, beach and area.

Photos and video widely shared on social media showed multiple buildings shredded by the twister, campers flipped, vehicles crushed and at least one trailer thrown into the lake by the vicious winds.

Environment Canada confirmed Saturday that the tornado touched down west of Lake Manitoba on Friday night.

A 77-year-old man was killed and his house destroyed, RCMP said.

"Lots of damage and still no cell service, for the third month, going on. We’ve had no cell service in that area and when you get an emergency like we had yesterday, it’s even worse," said RM of Alonsa reeve Stan Asham.

Asham, who said Bell MTS told him recently wireless sites in the area have been upgraded, said he did not receive a weather alert on his cellphone.

Lauren McIvor, 24, said she and her boyfriend Blair, 25, arrived at his family’s trailer at the Margaret Bruce campground at about 8:20 p.m. and got a tornado alert on Blair’s phone, which is with Rogers.

"We were sitting inside and we got one of those emergency weather alerts that there was a tornado warning. If we hadn’t gotten that on my boyfriend’s cellphone, we would never have known to go look outside and get away from there," said McIvor, who said her Bell phone doesn’t have service there at all.

"We’re a little shaken up a little bit but we’re good. We’re all safe."

She said they had time to run to tell the couple next door. The four of them piled in the neighbour’s truck and drove west to safety, away from the funnel cloud.

Vanessa Lambourne Whyte, who lives about 30 minutes away in McCreary, said her sister Nancy was camping with her nine-year-old son at the Margaret Bruce beach and didn’t get a tornado alert on her phone.

"Had my sister not received a text message from my other sister, I don’t know what kind of situation they would have been in," said Whyte, whose cellphone cut out frequently during the interview. "Cellphone service is so shoddy out there."

Her sister and nephew went outside and the storm was upon them already, Whyte said. They jumped in their vehicle and Nancy drove them west to the Silver Ridge gas station in Alonsa, and they waited out the storm there.

Whyte said she arrived at the beach area to check on Nancy just after the tornado struck and said "It was fast and it was awful.

"I know pretty much the tornado came and nobody had any warning. Some people were able to leave the beach site but others, by the time they tried to leave, there was debris in the way so some of them were trapped there," she said.

She said people in the beach and campground area were not injured.

A photo of the tornado taken from a farmyard about 12 kilometres (8 miles) south of Silver Ridge, Man., looking north. (Clint Robertson photo / Winnipeg Free Press)<br>

"The tops of trees are gone and you get to the campground, some campers and a truck are in the lake. There was a cabin there that’s just gone. It doesn’t exist anymore," Whyte said. "There was life jackets torn and wrapped around trees, there was pieces of metal stuck in trees and a house on the way there that was completely demolished."

McIvor said a pickup truck got stuck in debris on the beach trying to get away and two people had to weather the storm inside the truck.

She said the weather changed dramatically — high winds, rain and hail — in the 30 minutes from when they arrived at the trailer to when they escaped. After they waited out the storm on the side of Highway 50, they saw fallen hydro lines as they headed back to the trailer.

"Our trailer was all good but it was pushed back into the trees," she said, noting the winds missed her car parked in front of the trailer and it only has a scratch on the driver’s side mirror.

McIvor said the other end of the beach bore the brunt of the storm.

They drove over to check on people there and saw trees flattened, several demolished cabins, campers flipped on their sides or upside down.

"There was a little outhouse (in the area of the beach) and there are only the toilets standing now. Everything else is all over the beach," McIvor said. "The whole beach has two or three feet of debris and algae piled up and lots of hydro lines down."

Jill Catagas who lives in Brandon had just arrived at the beach to enjoy the August long weekend when the destruction started.

"I pulled in actually and a neighbour came running and said, ‘Look behind your van, there’s a tornado behind you,’" Catagas said.

Catagas said she was lucky she could escape to the home of a local resident who was camping on the beach but lived nearby.

"There was at least 40 of us in their basement," she said.

"We had about a dozen children so we threw them all under mattresses in the basement."

From there they watched through a window as the tornado ran its unpredictable course.

"It was within probably 40 feet from the house from hitting it," she said.

As a result of the storm the owner of the house they were staying in lost all of his bales of hay.

Not only that, but "there’s cows missing," she said.

Although Catagas’ trailer survived, the back window of her van was smashed by the storm. Her son was not as lucky. His trailer was reduced to a pile of rubble.

"We had everyone checking campers making sure everyone was accounted for, Catagas said.

Scott Powell of Manitoba Hydro said 240 customers were without service following Friday night’s storm and all were expected to have service restored late Saturday night.

He said there was "fairly substantial damage to our infrastructure in that area" including downed lines, broken poles and some transformers that were broken right off poles.

"We had to do some very extensive repairs in that area, re-setting a number of poles, re-stringing wires and installing new transformers," Powell said.

RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said the man who died during the storm was found just after 9 p.m. Friday outside his house, which had been completely destroyed by the tornado.

Asham said the man was his friend Jack Furrie, who lived alone in the RM of Alonsa.

"He was a personal friend of my whole family and 51 years ago, he stood up for my wife and I at our wedding," Asham said. "He was a good friend."

Environment Canada meteorologist Jean-Philippe Begin said there were reports of tennis ball-sized hail, up to six centimetres in diameter.

"Bigger than golf ball-sized hail" pelted Jocelyn Mitchell’s family’s vehicles and home on Dauphin Lake Golf Course, about 10 minutes east of Dauphin, on Friday night.

"We checked the radar about an hour before it happened, saw a weather system was coming. We were making dinner and it hit us super fast and it was so loud on our windows. We looked outside and my three-year-old daughter said, ‘Mommy, it’s snowing outside!’" Mitchell said.

She said at least 100 vehicles are hail-damaged at Twin Motors in Dauphin where her husband Kevin is the general manager.

"The town (Dauphin) didn’t get as much hail as we got out here but they still got a significant amount, and all the vehicles on the lot are damaged," Jocelyn said.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

— with files from the Brandon Sun / Canadian Press

History

Updated on Saturday, August 4, 2018 at 11:44 AM CDT: Adds CP credit.

12:23 PM: Video by Lauren McIvor added.

12:56 PM: Layout changed.

2:14 PM: Updated.

10:41 PM: Adds video by Brooklyn Barteski and additional copy from Brandon Sun.

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