Barrie neighbourhood begins slow recovery after devastating tornado

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One resident and her son endured six seconds of terror in a basement

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BARRIE — Sitting on a container of donated water bottles on her front lawn littered with debris, Natalie Harris is thankful a call from her ex-husband saved her life from Thursday’s devastating tornado.

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“He called and he said get the dogs and go downstairs,” Harris said Friday, recalling the frantic call.

John called from a nearby Costco after he saw a flying garbage can and intense rotating rain.

Harris and her son Adam, 15, immediately grabbed their dogs, Walter and Millie, and fled to the basement on Sun King Cr. — near Mapleview Dr. E. and Prince William Way in Barrie’s southeast end.

The move likely saved their lives.

A tornado tore through a neighbourhood in the southeast end of Barrie on Thursday damaging at least 150 homes. A car is seen flipped on its roof on Majesty Blvd. on Friday July 16, 2021.
A tornado tore through a neighbourhood in the southeast end of Barrie on Thursday damaging at least 150 homes. A car is seen flipped on its roof on Majesty Blvd. on Friday July 16, 2021. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

She said it was 6 to 10 seconds of terror.

“There was no question the tornado was on the house. It was so much noise. The house was shaking,” the former paramedic and Barrie Ward 6 council member said. “We were standing in the corner just waiting for it to stop.”

When she worked up the nerve to venture out of the basement, she was stunned.

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“Man oh man, I was obviously not expecting to see the sky when I came up,” she  said. “The roof is gone and there was the sky.”

Like many nearby homes, the roof was torn off, the shed was flipped over, and Intense wind pushed her Jeep at least 10 metres.

On Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford walked the ravaged streets to survey damage and speak to locals.

“It’s a shock. It’s shocking. It’s heartbreaking,” Ford said. “These people within minutes literally their lives have changed. But we are going to get them back on their feet. ”

“I just thank God that no one got killed in this tragedy,” he added.

A day after a tornado ripped through a Barrie neighbourhood and damaged at least 150 homes, Ontario Premier Doug Ford surveys the damage with Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood while also taking time to speak to residents and first responders on Friday July 16, 2021.
A day after a tornado ripped through a Barrie neighbourhood and damaged at least 150 homes, Ontario Premier Doug Ford surveys the damage with Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood while also taking time to speak to residents and first responders on Friday July 16, 2021. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said at least 150 homes were damaged by what Environment Canada classified an EF-2 tornado with winds of 210 km/h.

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Of those homes, 60 are unsalvageable.

All but 2 of the 10 people hospitalized Thursday have since been released.

“Look at this storm,” Mayor Lehman said alongside the Premier. “How there were not life-threatening injuries or people killed — it’s incredible.”

Spencer-Kaleb Yankowski drove through the devastated area handing out water, coffee, and snacks.

“We have been doing this all day. Got here at like 5 a.m.,” Yankowski said. “Many people are still upset. A lot of them are still in shock. ”

For the dozens of people like Natalie and her ex-husband who face a total or near-total loss of a home, it will be many months before their lives begin to resemble normal.

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