Canadian Tornado Death Toll Rises to 9
July 15, 2000 6:51 pm EST
By Jeff Jones
PINE LAKE (Reuters) - The death toll from a tornado that obliterated a popular Canadian mobile home campground reached nine on Saturday as 100 rescue workers scoured the lakeside recreation area for survivors, authorities said.
The tornado, with winds swirling at 186 mph, cut a deadly one-third-mile-wide swath through the Green Acres campground near Red Deer, Alberta on Friday evening, killing nine people, injuring other 130, as well as destroying some 400 trailers and at least one house.
Rescue workers combed through the wreckage looking for survivors at the popular family summer recreation area located about 90 miles north of Calgary. The tornado blew a number of campground trailers into Pine Lake and divers searched the lake on Saturday for victims.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Patrick Webb said the dead included five women, three men and a 2-year-old child, but he declined to say whether the child was a boy or girl. He said the body of the ninth victim, a woman, was found on Saturday morning.
Many of those injured suffered blunt trauma after being hit by objects and debris hurled into the air by the tornado or being "tossed into things," Webb said. They also suffered cuts, bruises and broken limbs, police said.
In addition to the dead and injured, 325 people were evacuated to a nearby community center and college in Red Deer, said Jim Squire, Red Deer County public information officer.
As skies cleared partially on Saturday, the devastation became apparent. Boats and trailers were upended and stacked one on top of the other as if they were toys discarded by a child. Trees were downed. And one wood-framed house beside the campground was mangled.
PRIME MINISTER EXPRESSES SYMPATHY
In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he and his wife Aline were shocked and saddened by the devastation.
"Aline joins me in extending our deepest sympathies to the friends and families of the victims, and in offering our most sincere wishes for a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured," he said.
Eyewitnesses offered harrowing accounts of the tornado.
"After this thing hit, I jumped into my trailer as it was going by," said Phil Lapreirie, who was camping on Friday with his wife Diane. "It was moving when I got in -- I knew my wife was in there."
"Everybody dove for cover. I happened to get inside and the next thing you know it's upside down, around, then we hit the dirt," added Lapreirie, who had stitches on his face and his arm in a sling after being treated in a hospital overnight in Red Deer.
Another eyewitness, who did not give her name, said she had been driving into the campsite with her two children when the tornado struck.
"The worst part is when a 30-foot trailer almost landed on top of us," she said tearfully.
The storm hit the campground, located about 37 miles southeast of Red Deer, at about 9 p.m. EDT on Friday as those gathered were preparing for a weekend baseball tournament.
Authorities said they did not know how many people had checked into the campground or how many others had been headed there for the weekend. That made it difficult to determine the number of missing, Webb said.
TORNADO ON GROUND FOR 12 MILES
Dennis Dudley, a storm specialist with Environment Canada, told reporters the tornado was almost two-thirds of a mile wide when it touched down just before the campground and left a path of destruction one-third of a mile wide. At its maximum intensity, the twister was F-3 on a scale that ranges from zero to five.
"It took direct aim right through the trailer park," Dudley said.
The tornado tore through the campground before continuing eastward for several more miles. It was on the ground for about half an hour, traveling about 12 miles, Dudley said. The tornado was spawned by a severe "supercell" thunderstorm feeding off hot, humid weather closer to the ground and the fast-moving jet stream high overhead.
Alberta usually experiences 16 to 20 tornadoes each year, but most are of weak F-0 to F-1 intensity. An F-4 tornado in Edmonton in 1987 killed 27 people.
The Canadian Red Cross set up a toll-free telephone number (1-800-565-4483) to provide information to relatives and friends of victims.