Ex-Winnipegger survives Minnesota tornado

A former Winnipegger living in Minneapolis is deciding where she'll live after her home was heavily damaged by a tornado that left two men dead and dozens more injured.
Many large trees were uprooted and dropped across homes and vehicles in Marie Porter's neighbourhood. (Marie Porter)
A tree limb sticks out the side of Marie Porter's home in Minnesota. ((Marie Porter))

A former Winnipegger living in Minneapolis is deciding where she'll live after her home was heavily damaged by a tornado that left two men dead and dozens more injured.

Marie Porter was driving during the Sunday storm when her alarm company called to say her home was on fire.

She made her way home through streets strewn with power lines and debris. When she arrived home, she saw several trees had landed on the house.

"I've never seen anything like that in my life, I mean, there were roofs all across the road and in yards and everything. You're crawling over powerlines and it's a mess."

The fire alarm turned out to be false but Porter faces a massive cleanup and uncertainty as to where she will live in the meantime.

Splintered trees and other debris litters a street in Minnesota after a tornado whipped through on May 22. ((Marie Porter))

Fortunately, Porter was not hurt in the storm and her four cats survived the damage to the house.

"It's been interesting. I was never prepared for this," she said.

"It looks like something out of a horror movie," she said, describing the scene of destruction on her street.

The storm was part of a system that caused havoc between Minnesota and Missouri, killing at least 116 people in southwestern Missouri.

Porter said her neighbourhood used to be covered in a canopy of leaves from 100-year-old trees.

Most of those trees have been torn from the ground, she said.

Porter said the storm came on so suddenly and the sky went black.

"I can handle blizzards, I can handle all that, tornadoes, it's like the sirens start coming off and you've got funnels dropping out of the sky. It's like there's no warning."

Storm chasers turn back

A group of storm chasers from Winnipeg were about 12 kilometres from the twister that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, when they decided to go no further.

"We knew not to get too close to this thing because it intensified very fast on radar. It's just too dangerous when it's rainwrapped [and] when you can't see it — you don't know if it's just to your north or if it's going to wrap up behind," said meteorologist Justin Hobson, whose group makes an annual trek to the U.S. every year to track storms.

"You just don't know [and] it's just not worth it."

The group drove away and decided to chase smaller tornadoes spawned by the same system.

"What was actually very unique about this is that the storm appeared weak…but as it approached the city it intensified so fast like it was just scary," Hobson said.

Memories of Elie

The destruction in Joplin and Minnesota is all too familiar to the people of Elie, Manitoba.

The strongest documented twister in Canada's history hit the southern Manitoba community on June 22, 2007.

The F5 tornado touches down near Elie, Man., in 2007. ((Wayne Hanna/Canadian Press) )

It was the only tornado in Canada to be officially confirmed as a category F5 tornado, the highest rating on the Fujita scale.

The Elie tornado cut a swath of damage up to 300 metres wide, travelled for about 5.5 kilometres and stayed on the ground for 35 minutes. Wind speeds reached 420 to 510 km/h.

No one from the community of about 550 was killed or seriously hurt. Nineteen people were left homeless.

Dan Rugg was working on Monday, still planting and replacing trees destroyed in that tornado.

"It's tough. It really is tough. It takes a toll on you," he said. "There's not much you can do about it."

Experts say it's just a matter of time until a tornado on that scale hits Canada again.

"We're going to see more in the future there's no question about that," said University of Manitoba climatologist John Hanesiak.

In Canada, there isn't much research about twisters or a long documented history to forecast trends.

"Predicting exactly where one's going to happen is a tough business. It's just not something we're good at doing yet," Hanesiak said.

Hanesiak hopes to see better warning systems put in place here in Canada.

"These things happen quick. It's not like a flood where you could have weeks or even months' [warning]," he said.

Sections of rooftops, ripped off by the Minnesota tornado, were scattered across the road and in yards in Marie Porter's neighbourhood. ((Marie Porter))