'It was massive': Survival stories emerge in wake of deadly tornado in Alonsa, Man.

Dianne Oleschak and her family spent Saturday morning assessing the damage on their property after the tornado tore through their yard, narrowly missing their home, where about 40 people had survived the storm the night before.

Family helped dozens take shelter in their basement moments before tornado tore through their yard

Clean up started Saturday at the home of an elderly couple in Alonsa, Man. that was destroyed in Friday's tornado. Neighbour Matthew Oleschak and his cousin were able to pull the couple from the rubble shortly after the twister tore through the home. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

As the clean up started for Friday evening's tornado in Alonsa, Man., stories of how the community rallied together to stay safe during the disaster emerged Saturday.

The tornado touched down near the rural community 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg at about 9 p.m. CT., leaving several kilometres of wreckage in its path and at least one death.

Family members have confirmed to CBC News the man who died is Jack Furrie, 77.

Dianne Oleschak and her family spent Saturday morning assessing the damage on their property after the tornado tore through their yard, narrowly missing their home, where about 40 people had survived the storm the night before.

As the tornado was touching down the Oleschaks had been camping at the nearby Margaret Bruce Provincial Park with dozens of members of their extended family.

It's a family get-together held every year, explained Dianne.

Dianne Oleschak and Jason Oleschak speak to CBC News in front of the family's shop in Alonsa, Man., which was levelled in Friday's tornado. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

But when the skies suddenly turned dark and word spread that a tornado had touched down nearby, the family gathered their things and invited anyone and everyone around them to come take shelter at their home.

"We all came here and ran into the basement and watched everything pretty much disappear," said Dianne's son, Jason Oleschak, 33. 

Everyone packed into the family's basement just moments before the twister turned toward their property.

"Half of them we probably didn't know but we needed to make sure that anybody that needed to be could be safe," explained Dianne.

"The twister was actually twisting through the yard, it was like we were right inside of it almost."

Jason's brother Matthew Oleshak, 29, watched from a basement window as the tornado tore through his parents' property, destroying a barn and the family's shop. 

Alonsa tornado destroys shop

CBC News Manitoba

3 years ago
A man has died after a tornado touched down in the Alonsa, Man., area on Friday night, RCMP confirmed. 0:46

A  video taken from the basement shows the tornado completely levelling the 30 by 40 foot shed in the blink of an eye.

"It was massive, absolutely massive," said Matthew.

"We have heavy machinery that's like thousands of pounds that's flipped upside down and twisted right sideways.

"It's just unreal, the force of nature is just unbelievable."

'I was out the door'

Matthew watched the twister move through his parents' yard and head straight for their neighbours home, where an elderly couple he's known his whole life lived by themselves.

The tornado ripped the couple's roof and walls right off the home.

"I said we gotta get over there because something could be wrong," he said.

"People were trying to get me to stay in the house, and as soon someone had their back turned I was out the door."

Family escapes to basement as tornado hits

CBC News Manitoba

3 years ago
A tornado touched down in the Alonsa, Man. area on Friday night, killing one man and damaging several properties. 1:51

Just moments after watching the destruction caused by the tornado, Matthew and his cousin ran through the storm to his neighbours' home and found the couple in their kitchen.

The woman was trapped under part of a wall, a table and debris.

Matthew and his cousin were able to free the couple and help them get over to his family's house through the heavy rain and wind that followed the tornado.

The woman had hurt her back and could hardly walk, and the man had been hit in the head. They had to carry the injured woman down the driveway.

"We got them over here and, luckily enough, one of the women who came over here was a paramedic, so she was able to check them out and everything was good," he said.

Matthew Oleschak, 29, and a cousin ran through the storm just moments after the tornado passed through to rescue his elderly neighbours. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

When emergency responders arrived, the couple was taken to hospital in Neepawa and Matthew says he's since heard they've both been released.

While he sifted through the wreckage at his parents' property Saturday morning, he said he would do it all again in a heartbeat.

"It's amazing what a small community is like," he said.

"We had people non-stop coming to make sure everyone was OK and we were making sure everything was OK.

"There's pieces of your heart all over the place out here."

No cell service before tornado touched down

Environment Canada says the tornado may have been on the ground for up to 45 minutes.

But reports of how long the storm was on the ground are still unconfirmed, said Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Russo.

A team of three people went to the area Saturday to survey the damage and gather details on what exactly occurred, he said.

David Mozdzen snapped this photo of the tornado from a field as it touched down Friday night, tearing through homes in the Alonsa, Man. area, east of Riding Mountain National Park. (Submitted by David Mozdzen)

Environment Canada had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area on Friday morning, and upgraded it to a severe thunderstorm warning shortly before 8 p.m. About 20 minutes later, a tornado warning was issued.

But many in the community told CBC News they hadn't received the warning because cell service has been out in the area for the last few months after something happened to two nearby cell towers earlier this year.

Matthew said Friday's tornado shows why the problem needs to be fixed.

"We have people, lives destroyed all over the place and you can't even make a phone call to make sure someone's OK?" he said.

"This is a modern day and time where we need to have this kind of stuff and this is a prime example of it."

With files from Erin Brohman