One day after a tornado ripped through a swath of their city five kilometres long and 100 metres wide, the Barrie, Ont. construction sector was assessing the damage, thankful that only a handful of workers were injured, and ready and eager to help in the recovery any way possible.
No fatalities were reported but there were at least 11 injuries reported including three in dramatic circumstances to construction workers. The tornado touched down near Huronia Road and Mapleview Drive around 2:30 p.m. and continued eastward towards Prince William Way where it caused significant damage on the north side of Mapleview Drive.
Fire Chief Cory Mainprize said some 25 homes suffered significant damage in the July 15 storm and were uninhabitable, with Environment Canada stating that at least 10 roofs were ripped away and that the second floors of at least two buildings were destroyed. At least two residential construction sites, owned by Pratt Homes and Pace Homes, were also in the path of the tornado but Pace COO Pamela Ventresca said their homes are in their early stages of development and were not directly in the path of the twister.
Three workers for Pace Homes were inside a construction trailer on Pace’s Urban North site when the tornado hit and had no time to take shelter. The workers – two site supervisors and a construction clerk – were part of a crew of around 35 undertaking early works on the 900-home site.
Ventresca said it is a “miracle” the workers are alive.
“They were in the construction trailer about 2:30, perfectly sunny day, and all of a sudden within five-10 minutes the sky went black, a torrential downpour started and within minutes, a tornado touched down. They couldn’t even get out of the trailer. They saw it in the back window and by the time they realized it, it had already picked them up and thrown them across the site,” she recounted.
The trailer flew and bounced about 100 feet, Ventresca said. Other workers were outside the path of the tornado and took cover, and when it looked like the danger has passed, they ran to the trailer. They found their colleagues face down in water, bleeding.
“They were looking for them in the debris, because they basically didn’t know if they were alive,” she said.
The injuries varied from severe to relatively minor, Ventresca said, and included a broken nose and a cracked vertebra. Ambulances took the three to the hospital and the most severely injured was kept overnight.
One worker, the least injured, came into the office the morning after the event and was greeted with emphatic hugs, said Ventresca.
Workers were back on the job the day after the storm, after debris had been cleaned up and it was determined that the home sites were safe to work on.
Power providers Alectra had crews working through the night to repair extensive damage which at its height impacted 9,000 homes and businesses.
The City of Barrie reported that its Emergency Control Group assembled at 3:30 p.m., an hour after the tornado, to triage the situation, and a statement indicated the group was continuing to meet regularly.
Various social media accounts posted images and video of the tornado. One Twitter post showing a photograph of a dozer on a construction site with the Twitter user indicating his friend had ridden out the tornado protected by the equipment. “He’s OK, just a little shaken,” the user stated.
As the storm approached, members of the Simcoe County Home Builders’ Association were out on Innisbrook Golf Course just a few kilometres away for the association’s annual golf tournament when they received warning to leave the course. They all ran for cover. The association’s executive officer Sandy Tuckey said as time went on and the reality of the twister’s impact became clear, their thoughts turned to the devastation of the homes and of the workers’ injuries.
“I’m reflecting and just thanking our lucky stars that all of us got off the golf course. Then we’re looking at these homes in beautiful residential communities, built by our builders, our local builders in the subdivisions. And the devastation just kept going on and on and two of our local builders were severely impacted by it,” she said, referring to Pratt and Pace.
Tuckey said she had contacted local authorities and offered the expertise of the association and its members at any time if required during the cleanup and recovery.
Roofer Adam Graham, proprietor of the local firm Adam’s Roofing Company, had an opportunity to observe the wreckage caused to homes on Beatrice Avenue up close when he responded to a message on social media. Graham had offered to help homeowners who had roof damage through his own post – no labour fees, only materials, he said – and approached the tornado site only to be told his vehicle would not be allowed further. He was 700 metres away from the home of his new client.
His recourse was to walk with his girlfriend Shannon Wheeler, both weighed down by tools, a 24-foot ladder, multiple tarps and a headlamp, prepared to offer temporary protection. There would be another hike for another ladder and more supplies as well.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to drive down there, there was so much debris on the roads, whether it be shingles, nails, branches,” Graham said.
At the house, four or five pieces of plywood had blown off.
“I’m looking directly into this lady’s living room, and the one other area was her closet. And I went into her house, and there is just insulation everywhere.”
By 11 p.m. he had the temporary fix done, on a rainy night, with a promise to return the next day. And he had two other jobs to work on as well in the area.
Looking around the neighbourhood, with debris everywhere, Graham said, “I just can’t stress how bad the damage is.
“It’s going to take ages to clean up.”
— With files from Canadian Press
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.