Long Plain First Nation continues tornado cleanup as dozens return home

Hundreds of volunteers spent their weekend at Long Plain First Nation picking up shingles, toys and pieces of homes after a tornado tore through the southern Manitoba community last week.

Power back on for most of the Manitoba communtiy

The tornado that touched down in Long Plain First Nation tore roofs off houses, uprooted trees and overturned vehicles. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Hundreds of volunteers spent their weekend at Long Plain First Nation picking up shingles, toys and pieces of homes after a tornado tore through the southern Manitoba community last week.

Environment Canada says an enhanced Fujita scale 1 (EF-1) tornado touched down and travelled at least eight kilometres on Wednesday, tearing roofs off houses, flipping vehicles and bringing down trees at the First Nation.

"[The cleanup is] going very well," Chief Dennis Meeches said on Sunday afternoon.

"There is still a lot of work to be done of course."

Meeches said between 150 and 200 people have been working in the community southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man.

"The next step will just be to meet with our inspectors tomorrow morning and begin with our roofing repairs," he said.

They will start by tackling the homes with moderate damage but will need to get clearance from a structural engineer before they can fix the ones with major damage, he said. 

Volunteers clean up downed tree branches at the Long Plain First Nation on Friday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Some evacuees returning

Meeches said power has now been restored to the majority of the community, and about 30 families, whose homes weren't damaged but who had no power, have returned.

On Friday, 535 evacuees from the First Nation were being temporarily housed in Winnipeg hotels, according to the Canadian Red Cross. As of Monday afternoon, about 200 evacuees had returned to Long Plain and more were expected to head home later in the day, a spokesperson with the Red Cross said.

Everyone evacuated from nearby Dakota Tipi First Nation, where people also lost power in the storm, has returned home, the spokesperson added.

"Any time an event like this happens, no matter where it is, there is a little bit of hiccups here and there, but we are getting through them," Meeches said. "I think most people are very, very patient and understanding of the situation."

Edward Houle says he may not be able to return home for months. (CBC)

Edward Houle said he was told he won't be able to go back home for months. The single father of five was working at the gas bar when the tornado touched down and tore the roof off his home while his children hid in the crawl space.

"I was just in shock. I was watching it. I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said.

Houle said all he could think about were his kids at home, so he left the gas bar and ran to it.

"I just ran and I came around the building … and my roof was already gone. It was in the VLT parking lot about 30 or 40 yards away, and I just ran into the house," he said.

The home was a total loss because of wind and water damage, Houle said, adding his children had trouble sleeping the first few nights.

"My kids, they want to go home.… They miss home, and I just try and tell them it's going to be okay," he said.

Manitoba stepping up, helping out

Meeches said the community has been really impressed with how everyone has come together to help out.

"We really appreciate the help that we are getting. Manitoba has come out and fully supported Long Plain," he said.

"It's really impressive."

The Indian Métis Friendship Centre and Bear Clan in Winnipeg brought bottled water to volunteers in the community during its boil water advisory.

"We got the first load of water on Friday, and I took that out Friday night," said Bill Greenwalt, a Bear Clan member.

"The people there were really grateful."

He said after dropping off the water he was able to see the extent of the damage in the community.

"We noticed that the wind had blown over numerous trees around the community.… My wife and I took a tour and we found that a massive amount of trees were knocked over, and they had a whole crew out there for the last couple of days just sawing up trees," he said.