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A young couple from Melita, both avid volleyball players, have been identified as the victims of a tornado that tore through southwestern Manitoba Friday evening.
Shayna Barnesky, 18, and Carter Tilbury, 18, who were named as the victims on social media, are presumed to have been thrown from their vehicle as a tornado touched down near Highway 83 and Road 50N in Pipestone, 16 kilometres south of Virden. It swept two vehicles into a nearby field, levelled farm buildings and toppled powerlines.
Multiple friends shared their condolences with Barnesky and Tilbury’s families on Facebook Saturday afternoon as news of the storm’s damage began to circulate.
"Fly high angels," one poster wrote. "You two beautiful angels," another said.
The Manitoba High School Athletic Association website shows Barnesky and Tilbury played varsity volleyball for the Melita School Marauders. Tilbury played his last season in 2019, the year he graduated, while Barnesky completed her final season for the Marauders as a Grade 12 student this year. Barnesky’s Facebook profile shows pictures of her and Tilbury dressed in complementary outfits for her graduation this spring.
Virden RCMP confirmed on Saturday that two teens had died in the tornado, which was classified as an EF2 twister and produced winds of about 190 kilometres per hour. The Enhanced Fujita scale gives twisters a rating of zero to five, with five being the most severe.
RCMP officers responded to word of the tornado having touched down in the RM of Pipestone around 8:10 p.m. Friday and began searching the area with emergency services personnel. Barnesky and Tilbury’s vehicle was found thrown into a field by the storm, RCMP said, and a ground search led to RCMP locating the young couple.Barnesky and Tilbury were both pronounced dead at the scene.
RCMP also located a 54-year-old man from Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation inside a second vehicle, about a kilometre away from Barnesky and Tilbury’s car. The man was taken to hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries, RCMP said.
Officers along with EMS continued to search the area for other possible victims but none was located.
"A lot of people just can’t comprehend how wind can pick up a piece of machinery in a yard that weighs thousands of pounds and throw it half a mile across the highway onto another piece of property," Murray Wright, mayor of Virden, said Saturday after visiting the farm where the twister touched down Friday night. "It’s a terrible thing."
Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Alysa Pederson said Saturday preliminary findings from the investigation indicate wind speeds reached 190 km/h and the tornado itself lasted between ten and 20 minutes.
A severe thunderstorm was detected near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border around 7:30 p.m. Friday, she said, but was upgraded to a tornado warning around 7:50 p.m. Pederson said Environment Canada received first word of the tornado forming near Scarth, south of Virden, at 7:55 p.m. Around 8:15 p.m. — twenty minutes after the tornado was first reported —the warning was downgraded back to a severe thunderstorm.
Around 8:30 p.m., storm chasers began sharing video of the tornado and accounts of the damage left in its wake. Aaron Jayjack and his fiancée Misheyla Iwasiuk were first on scene when the tornado touched down, according to tweets Iwasiuk made Friday evening. The pair watched the tornado tear through a nearby farm, chewing up grain silos in its path.
"We’re in Virden, Manitoba, here where a big time tornado just crossed the road, hit a farm. We’re going to go back to the farm to make sure they’re OK soon as it crosses here and gets clear of the house," he said in a video posted to Twitter shortly after 8 p.m. Friday.
The pair told CTV News Saturday they helped the Sioux Valley man, who was pinned in his overturned vehicle, until paramedics arrived.
Kurtis Fafard saw the tornado from Scarth and described what he saw in a Facebook message Friday to the Brandon Sun.
"It started as slight rotation in the clouds and just kept building," he wrote. "It began to have a debris cloud and a funnel but no visible touchdown. A few minutes later it made touchdown and began to increase in size and power. It was at this time it struck the farmyard. There are steel fertilizer bins half a mile away crumpled up like tinfoil. Power poles torn out of the ground. Police, fire and EMS were all on scene before I got there."
Environment Canada was able to confirm a farm and two vehicles were impacted by the storm, though the full extent of the tornado’s damage has yet to be uncovered.
Environment Canada is partnering with a team at the Northern Tornadoes Project and the University of Manitoba to complete a full damage survey of the event.
"There’s still people in the field and they’re still doing an assessment," Pederson said, noting that anyone with video or information about damage from the storm should reach out to Environment Canada.
Wright, meanwhile, said dozens of people came out to help clean up the area near Virden on Saturday, using machinery to move broken trees and grain bins scattered across the ground. Those who couldn’t help with the physical labour were providing food to the workers.
"With a farming community everybody helps out in a time of tragedy. This is what’s going on today," he said.
Manitoba Hydro reported there were nine downed power poles and several kilometres of powerlines in a series of tweets Saturday.
The storm missed critical transmission lines, and crews were working to restore power to a handful of residents still affected by the toppled lines as of Saturday afternoon.
The last time a deadly tornado touched down in Manitoba was in August 2018, when 77-year-old retired teacher Jack Furrie was killed by a storm that touched down near Alonsa, about 200 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg. The RCMP said the man was found dead outside what remained of his wrecked home.
The storm, later classified as an EF-4 tornado, was estimated to have had wind speeds up to 280 km/h, and was the strongest to touch down in Canada since the country switched to the enhanced Fujita scale of measurement in 2013.
— with files from The Canadian Press, Brandon Sun
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
Updated on Sunday, August 9, 2020 at 12:52 AM CDT: Adds photo of Shayna Barnesky and Carter Tilbury. Adds video of tornado from Aaron Jayjack that he posted on Twitter.
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