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Aftermath of the 1985 Barrie tornado

The Story


The frantic activity that follows the May 31, 1985, Barrie tornado is a whirlwind of its own. The storm is devastating: eight killed, 155 injured, 300 homes destroyed and $100 million in damage. Yet in its wake, local residents are transformed from terrified victims to a unified army bent on rescue, restoring order and providing comfort. Reporter Doug James follows Barrie residents through 48 hours of hell. 

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: June 3, 1985
Host: Mary Lou Finlay, Barbara Frum
Reporter: Doug James
Duration: 14:51

Did You know?


• The Barrie tornado is often listed as the "Hopeville to Barrie tornado" describing the path the twister took.

• In addition to the direct damage done by the tornado, there was significant damage from severe thunderstorms and hail, which knocked out power and damaged 150 farms. Some estimates put the total cost of the disaster at $300 million.

• In an interview with Barbara Frum following this documentary, reporter Doug James said the most moving thing he noticed in Barrie was the almost compulsive desire by tornado survivors to salvage something from their ruined homes - a photograph, a toy, anything unbroken - that would ground them, and tie their uncertain future with their life before the disaster struck.

• In this clip we see some of the bizarre scenes that inevitably follow a tornado strike, such as homes with no roof or walls, yet clothes still hanging neatly in an exposed closet. Barrie tornado survivor David Wilson says that after his house was struck, the first thing he noticed was the foreign smell of fresh soil on his basement floor. Dirt had been stripped from farms outside the city, and driven with such force that it permeated even relatively undamaged buildings.

• The centre of a tornado is a zone of very low pressure. Some people mistakenly believe that the difference in pressure between the funnel and a house can make the house actually explode. In reality, the terrific winds simply blow away roofs, allowing walls to blow down outward. An even more dangerous accompanying myth is that opening your windows will equalize the pressure. Houses are not well sealed, and the air escapes regardless. Going near a window merely puts you in harm's way.


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