Number of Long Plain First Nation tornado evacuees rises to over 500

As volunteers clean up the extensive damage left by a tornado at the Long Plain First Nation, the number of residents displaced by the storm has climbed to more than 500.

Cleanup efforts are underway in southern Manitoba community

Riley Laychuk reports from Long Plain First Nation

5 years ago
Duration 1:59
CBC's Riley Laychuk reports from Long Plain First Nation as they clean up after a tornado damaged several homes. 1:59

As volunteers clean up the extensive damage left by a tornado at the Long Plain First Nation, the number of residents displaced by the storm has climbed to more than 500.

The Canadian Red Cross says 535 evacuees from the First Nation, located southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man., are being temporarily housed in Winnipeg hotels. Local leaders have said they could be out of their homes for months.

Another 44 people were evacuated from the Dakota Tipi First Nation as a result of the storm, says the Red Cross.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale 1 (EF 1) tornado ripped the roofs off houses, pushed some homes off their foundations, brought down trees, flipped vehicles over and left a trail of destruction when it touched down and travelled at least eight kilometres in the area sometime between 6 to 7 p.m. CT Wednesday.

Shawn Feely, the Red Cross's vice-president in Manitoba, says the organization is providing evacuees with shelter, transportation, food, hygiene products and support resources.

"It's a very stressful time for people who are evacuated and who know that their homes may be damaged and [they're] not sure what the immediate future holds, so there are some psycho-social mental health kind of issues that we will work with the community to address," he said.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen, whose Portage-Lisgar constituency includes Long Plain, toured the community with Chief Dennis Meeches on Friday afternoon, as more than 125 volunteers cut down trees, cleaned up debris and repaired buildings.
Volunteers clean up downed tree branches at the Long Plain First Nation on Friday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Meeches estimates that total damages from the tornado could be in the millions of dollars. No injuries were reported.

Volunteers include community members, their friends and families, as well as members of the Swan Lake First Nation.

"It makes me happy that it's getting over with," said Cory Peters. "Beforehand, we were devastated to see all this damage."

Manitoba Hydro says it has about 100 workers in the Portage/Long Plain area on Friday, working on restoring electrical service there.

Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen says the utility hopes to restore service for most customers by the end of the day, but crews have had to deal with an additional challenge — trees, weakened by the tornado and accompanying storm, coming into contact with power lines.

Tornado 'sounded like a freight train,' evacuee recalls

In Winnipeg, some of the Long Plain evacuees are still reeling from the tornado and its aftermath.

"Oh my goodness, it was horrifying. I was so scared," said Adam Woods, who was home when the tornado struck.

"My house was just rocking," he recalled. "You look out the window and you see things twisting up in the sky. I can hear — it sounded like a freight train, like how they say on TV, how they say it sounds. It's exactly how it sounds. It's terrifying."

RAW: Adam Woods' interview

5 years ago
Duration 3:58
Adam Woods recounts what it was like when a tornado touched down in his community of Long Plain First Nation. 3:58

Woods said his sons were running home after visiting their grandmother and ended up caught in the storm. While the experience was scary for them, they were not injured.

"I got my kids … as long as we're together, that's what matters most to me," he said.

"I'm relieved, I'm glad to be alive. I never had that experience before in my life. It was bad. I've seen people's houses, some ripped right off the foundation."

Brandon Wescoup said he and about a dozen members of his family — including his parents, nieces and nephews — prayed together in the cellar of his house, which was on the tornado's path.

"We heard the house shaking and the wind was screaming," he said. "It was pretty terrifying, honestly. All my years of living in this community, I've never seen anything like that. Never."

Wescoup said he's lucky the house is OK, but he added that it was devastating to see so much damage in a small community.

"That day, everyone in our community was driving around, checking on family members to see if everyone was OK and to see if anyone is injured," he said.

"It was heartbreaking to see our community go through something like that."