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Natalie Harris got the telephone call warning from her husband John just in time, getting her son and dogs into the basement of the family home on Sun King Crescent in Barrie right before disaster hit.
“And not even a minute later, we heard just a horrible loud noise and dust started coming into our basement,” Harris, a city councillor, told Simcoe.com.
“Our roof is gone and everything is gone. My son’s room is gone. The next door neighbour’s house is a two-storey.
“It’s a one-storey now,” she said.
Harris shot video of the devastation moments after the tornado passed through the neighbourhood.
“Oh, my God! A tornado just hit our house,” she said over and over in the video as she proceeded to survey the damage.
The Barrie area was battered by a tornado Thursday afternoon, resulting in catastrophic damage to property and injuries to residents.
Simcoe County Paramedic Services reported that eight people were injured, four seriously, and taken to hospital. Some residents were treated for minor injuries that didn’t require hospitalization.
“It’s incredible nobody has been killed. This could’ve been a much more serious disaster,” Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman told an evening press conference.
Barrie had a tornado on May 31, 1985, which killed eight people.
A senior Environment Canada official and a spokesperson for Barrie Police have both confirmed that a tornado did, indeed, touch down in the city of 150,000.
Barrie Police officers spent last evening doing door-to-door checks in the area hit by the tornado, while paramedics provided first aid to those injured, said police spokesman Peter Leon. A triage centre at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School was operating through the night.
“The damage is catastrophic. It is significant. It is major,” said Leon, who urged people to stay away from the area. Some homes have sustained structural damage, some have lost power and some gas lines have been affected, he added.
Barrie residents shared photos and videos of the destruction in the aftermath of the tornado, showing homes with their roofs partially torn off, overturned vehicles and debris littering the streets in parts of the city north of Toronto.
Geoff Coulson, a warning-preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said those images and videos have helped confirm the storm was, in fact, a tornado.
The twister touched down at 2:40 p.m. Thursday, minutes after Environment Canada upgraded its tornado-watch for the area, including Innisfil, to a warning, he said.
“We don’t have a sense of the damage path, the length or width of the path” that the tornado took when it touched down in Barrie, said Coulson.
The agency is sending a team to investigate. Another team from the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University is assessing the scene, too.
The storm also touched down in Keswick, Ont., but whether it took the form of a tornado remains to be determined, Coulson said.
Simcoe.com is also reporting a sighting of the tornado in Penetanguishene, northwest of Barrie.
The tornado warning for Barrie was lifted shortly before 3 p.m. as the storm moved east, but another one is now in place for the area of Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes
“It looks like, as it’s moving further east, it will start to weaken somewhat, but it is still going to be a very dangerous storm for the next little while,” said Coulson, who added that severe thunderstorm watches remain in place for much of southern and eastern Ontario, with the potential for damaging storms to occur through the late afternoon and evening hours in parts of the province.
Weather conditions from Barrie have spilled over into Toronto, with the city being under a special weather statement tonight.
Environment Canada issued the warning saying Toronto and parts of the GTA, such as Peel, will see heavy downpours of rain up 25 mm and gusts of wind gusts reaching 70 km/h.
At 4:15 p.m., Lehman issued a warning to Barrie residents via Twitter:
“There is extensive damage from the tornado touchdown in the area of Prince William Way and Mapleview in SE (southeast) Barrie. Please avoid the area as emergency crew are focused on making sure everyone is safe. We will have more to say on this later today. Thank you first-responders.”
—With files by Breanna Xavier-Carter, Toronto Star; The Canadian Press; Simcoe.com