RCMP say five homes were destroyed and several others heavily damaged Saturday afternoon when a powerful tornado struck farmland north of Calgary.
“Definitely two houses have been damaged, but it is difficult to say how many people have been injured,” said Cpl. Gina Slaney, minutes after witnesses reported a tornado that had moved southeast of the highway. Near Didsbury the voices of the 2 began to subside.
“It’s a big tornado…there’s chaos.”
The RCMP update on Saturday night said 14 homes were affected, five of which were destroyed.
Only one injury was reported; A woman is trapped in the basement of her home as it crumbles to pieces. Carstairs firefighters rescued the woman who escaped with only minor injuries.
The Mounties said that shortly after the tornado warning was issued, the twister moving at approximately 30 km/h moved over a rural area one to two kilometers wide.
A video posted to YouTube by a storm-chaser named Aaron Jayjack, which is embedded below, shows a wide churning of earth and debris on a highway heading towards his vehicle, and the frightened driver screeching to a halt, then The car overturns.
The voice-over said, “A violent tornado, oh my god, there’s a lot of debris.”
It then became clear to the man that only moments earlier the houses were in the path of the twister.
He said, “It hit something, guys, it’s bad, very bad damage… I’ve got to check the houses.”
His camera then pans to fields dotted with snapped and downed trees, downed power lines, swaying debris and damaged buildings on both sides of Highway 2A.
Heavy farm equipment was tossed around like toys, the mighty metal blown from buildings by the wind wrapped around the remains of trees.
The person shooting the video calls out to the survivors but hears no answer, moments before emergency crews arrive.
Afterwards, survivors could be seen hugging with family and friends near the wreckage of a property.
‘Stuff was hitting my windshield…we just sat quietly’
Sports journalist Eric Francis was driving north on the Qui II Highway just after 2:30 p.m. when he noticed dozens of vehicles parked on the side of the road between Carstairs and Didsbury.
Francis said, “You couldn’t see anything but this gray wall, it was black and gray—I’ve never seen that color in my life.”
“Stuff was hitting my windshield, almost like ash on my windshield but there was no wind… We were just sitting there.
“It was a little scary, to be honest.”
But he said the storm moved away from them on the east side of the highway, engulfing the tornado.
That’s when he saw about eight RCMP vehicles running after the twister.
Carstairs resident Cheryl Beck said she was on her way home from Olds when she saw the tornado and turned west to avoid it.
Other vehicles were stopped nearby, their drivers seemed unsure what to do, he said.
“Then we passed by the touchdown site — it was bad,” Beck said, adding that two farms on either side of Highway 2A were destroyed.
“Trees were broken like matchsticks, houses were badly damaged. The tornado was really huge and the damage reflects that.
“It’s too close to home.”
Hail the size of golf and tennis balls caused by a tornado in the area near Didsbury
Niki Kosik, who lives on the northern edge of Carstairs, also made a video recording of the tornado and said it was several hundred meters from her home.
“You’d see a funnel start up and then the third time, it came down — it was huge,” Kosik said, adding that he feared the worst for people living between Carstairs and Didsbury.
“Too many sirens are wailing.”
He said while most people in his town kept a safe distance from the twister while recording it on their phones, others headed towards it.
“You can see it clearly from a distance, you don’t need to get any closer,” Kosik said.
He said that same corridor of farm was hit by a tornado six or seven years ago on Canada Day.
“It’s become a tradition,” Kosik said.
“I love it, I’m one of those crazy stormtroopers. You can see storms coming from afar.
Golf ball and tennis ball sized hail also fell in areas around Didsbury, left over from the high winds.
Saturday’s extreme weather came after several days of high temperatures and unsettled conditions across southern Alberta, which also saw heat and storm warnings issued for many parts of the province.
Calgary was drenched in rain from severe storms that hit the city on Thursday evening, causing flash flooding and some damage to roads.
Late Friday afternoon, tornado warnings were in place for areas south of Calgary.