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Alberta woman describes fleeing home which was destroyed in devastating tornado

A woman whose childhood home was destroyed by a tornado sweeping through central Alberta says the family is still working to process what happened.

On Saturday a tornado hit between the towns of Carstairs and Didsbury, Alta.

A person holds a photo in front of wreckage.

Elisa Humphreys got in her car with her dog and cat and fled moments before a tornado destroyed her central Alberta home.

On Saturday afternoon a tornado touched down between the towns of Carstairs and Didsbury, Alta., Environment Canada said.

Humphreys had received an Alberta Emergency Alert that a tornado was on the way, looked out her window and saw it coming.

When she returned to the area there was nothing but debris left. She said she doesn't have insurance, and family is trying to fundraise for her.

"I got here and phoned my son and I said there's nothing here, there's nothing here, it's all gone," she said.

"It almost looks like airplanes crashed here, but what it is, is the total destruction of two homes that have just been shredded and spread everywhere."

"It is a big loss financially. The last few years with COVID have been hard. So to rebuild would mean getting a mortgage and stuff … we're just going to try and figure out what to do," Humphreys said.

"I hope that I can figure out a way to continue living here, and especially in such a great community where people turn out like this."

People were out Sunday helping Humphreys clean up the wreckage, find family photos and whatever else could be salvaged. She said there were more than 100 people there throughout the day.

Officials are still working to understand the full scope of the damage left by the tornado and there have been conflicting reports throughout the weekend regarding the number of properties damaged, destroyed and potential injuries.

Watch | A time lapse video shot in Carstairs shows the tornado starting to form

A tornado starts forming in central Alberta

1 hour ago

Duration 2:56

A time lapse video of the tornado in Carstairs on Saturday

The latest figures from Environment and Climate Change Canada said there were nine homes damaged, of which three were destroyed.

Farm buildings and power infrastructure have also been damaged or destroyed.

Darlene Bowen, whose sister-in-law was rescued from the rubble of her home by emergency crews after she took refuge in the basement, said the tornado wrecked havoc on the property, tossing large farm equipment and vehicles. She said it also damaged the ranching family's barn and killed cows.

"It was really hard last night … I pulled in so that I could see the lights, put my lights on these trees, and I'm telling you, I just started to cry. It was devastating to see my childhood property just totally demolished," she said.

"But in the same token, I also know that we're going to be OK and it's only stuff. And I'm grateful everybody was OK."

She said her other family members lost their homes as well. Bowen's niece lives in a nearby trailer.

"She was not home at the moment — at that time — which was really good because her trailer is — there's not much left of it."

"We're all in shock. They're obviously all in shock and they're all at this point wondering what the next step is and how we move on from here. But they all know that this is just stuff and they're gonna move on," Bowen said.

In an update Saturday night, RCMP confirmed one woman was trapped in her basement as her home was destroyed above her. Carstairs Fire Department pulled her from the rubble and she suffered minor injuries. No other people have been reported injured, RCMP said.

'We want to make sure we can help all these people'

Carstairs fire chief Jordan Schaffer said crews dug through the debris to get to the woman.

He said the next step is addressing the victims' mental health.

"We've been in talks with the RCMP and they are trying to get the victim services set up to have a chat with them, make sure that they're in the best state and see if they need anything else," he said.

"We want to make sure that we can help all these people anyway we can."

Environment Canada still assessing tornado rating

Jesse Wagar, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the tornado spent at least 20 minutes on the ground, but likely longer.

But she said that also gave people time.

"You could see it coming from quite a distance and with it being on the ground for that long I think it gave people, with the tornado warning, enough time to get to safety," Wagar said.

She said it will take a while to sort through the sweeping damage and give the tornado a rating.

Connell Miller, engineering researcher for the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University, said the tornado's effects could have been worse.

"It's amazing that the people that did experience this tornado weren't more injured than they were," he said.

"There's a big subdivision two kilometers [away]. There's a mobile trailer park, right? And it's amazing that none of that got hit."

RCMP say woman charged with careless driving in tornado zone

In a release sent Sunday, Didsbury RCMP said they are asking motorists to stay away from the area.

"The increased number of motorists coming to the area to 'have a look' is causing issues," the release read.

RCMP said a woman was charged with careless driving and distracted driving when she stopped in the middle of the road, parked her vehicle and proceeded to take pictures, even when she was told to move on by police.

"Her actions caused a huge traffic issue. As well, officers had to respond to a collision in the area as people were not paying attention to the road."

Eye witness says tornado was a 'monster'

Storm chaser Aaron Jayjack was in the area when the tornado damaged homes approximately eight to nine kilometres southeast of Didsbury.

"It hit a few buildings, just barely scraped some buildings. I saw a little bit of damage, a little bit of debris," he said. "And then as I decided to get a little closer to it right as I did, that is when it really strengthened up and it hit a couple of houses, damaged them pretty significantly."

Jayjack said he stopped his chase to check the homes to see if anyone was hurt, but all he could hear was gas "spewing" from the home and he saw that the power lines were down.

WATCH | Tornado in central Alberta seen from the highway:

Tornado spotted by family in central Alberta

1 day ago

Duration 0:15

Deborah Bradbury-Dawe, who shared this video with CBC News, said her family was driving from Calgary to Edmonton when they had to stop due to the tornado near Carstairs, Alta.

"I decided it wasn't safe for me to get any closer to the home and right that moment. I saw that there were emergency responders coming down the road to me. So I decided to let them do their job and continue doing my main job, which is tracking the storm and got back on the tornado," he said.

"It was just a monster, insane tornado tracking along the Prairie here in Alberta."

Greg Kosic, a Carstairs resident, ran out of his home to see where the tornado was heading and to see if his family needed to "hit the basement."

He said it was a scary moment for the town as they didn't know which way the tornado was heading.

"It was a dangerous moment, everybody felt it," Kosic said.

He said he's been watching the weather since the Saturday afternoon tornado.

"I woke up at 3 a.m., believe me it looked like we had another one coming. It makes you apprehensive, aware, and a little bit antsy. Next time there's a weather pattern we'll be watching for it," he said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article used a figure from an RCMP release which said there have been 14 houses affected, and five destroyed, however the latest number from officials on the ground is that there have been three homes destroyed of nine houses damaged.
    Jul 02, 2023 2:56 PM MT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jade Markus

Digital journalist

Jade Markus is a digital journalist at CBC Calgary.

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