Long Plain First Nation tornado evacuees could be out of homes for months, says chief

Upwards of 200 people from the Long Plain First Nation could be out of their homes for up to six months, after a tornado seriously damaged homes in the southern Manitoba community.

Up to 200 members staying in temporary accommodations due to storm damage, says chief

Long Plain First Nation evacuee Terry Richard and his five children, three of them seen here, are staying in Winnipeg until they can safely return home. (CBC/Sean Kavanagh)

Upwards of 200 people from the Long Plain First Nation could be out of their homes for several months, after a tornado seriously damaged homes in the southern Manitoba community.

Environment Canada says an Enhanced Fujita Scale 1 (EF 1) tornado touched down and travelled at least eight kilometres.

Terry Richard and his five children are among the evacuees staying in Winnipeg while their community is restored. He said his three-bedroom home made it through the storm but was flooded.

"There's a lot of rain coming in the windows, coming in the basement — there's about a foot of water in the basement," he said.

Richard said his community was left "quite disastrous" after Wednesday's wild storm.

"You didn't know what's coming out of the dark," he said.

"It's pretty wild to see that and live it."
A tornado that touched down at Long Plain First Nation on July 20 damaged or destroyed 170 homes. (Ryan Cheale/CBC)

The tornado and storm winds tore roofs off houses, flipped vehicles over and brought down trees at the First Nation, a community of 2,400 people southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man., when it touched down sometime between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. CT.

"A lot of trees uprooted. We have some roofs that were just blown right out," said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches.

"We even have, I think, reports of foundations — homes being lifted and just kind of moved a few feet out.… There's extensive damage."

There were no reported injuries.

Meeches initially estimated there were about 100 people who have had to seek emergency accommodations as a result of the tornado damage, but on Thursday afternoon he said the number is closer to 200.

Ottawa has contracted the Canadian Red Cross to provide accommodations in Winnipeg for Long Plain residents who have health concerns, Manitoba vice president Shawn Feely said in an interview. About 50 have registered at an evacuation centre in Winnipeg.

At least 47 homes were damaged by the tornado and accompanying storm, Meeches told community members at a community meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The chief added that some evacuees may be out of their homes for up to six months. He noted that offers of support have been pouring in.

"Nobody will be without a home," Meeches said.
Members of Long Plain First Nation survey the tornado and storm damage on Thursday morning. This camper van was tipped over by winds. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The storm also damaged the Dakota Ojibway Police Service's communications equipment. As a result, the police force's office has been temporarily moved to Portage, Meeches said.

Some of the evacuees stayed in hotels in the Portage la Prairie area, but they are being transported to Winnipeg on Thursday.

'I figured, this is it,' says resident

Clemance Assiniboine was outside when he saw the storm and tornado approaching.

"I hurried back inside and closed the doors. Not long after, I hear some cracking and banging and the noise came, a roar," he said.

He sought shelter in the middle bedroom of his house; then part of the roof ripped off.

"I figured, this is it," he said.
The home belonging to Frieda Meeches and John Boyd was torn off of its foundation and moved about four metres. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Fortunately, Assiniboine wasn't hurt, but he realizes, after seeing the destruction, that he was lucky. His sheds and vehicles also were all damaged, including his motorhome.

"I couldn't even think straight for a while. I just looked out and I was dazed," he said, adding he was thankful his wife wasn't at home.

Assiniboine ended up staying in the house overnight, despite the damaged roof, because his bed didn't get wet.

Now he's looking for a place to stay with his wife while their home is repaired.

Frieda Meeches is also looking for a place to stay. The home she and her husband, John Boyd, moved into just a month ago took a big hit from the storm. The house was ripped off its foundation and shoved about four metres, tearing away the deck.

The roof is also gone and the furniture is a total loss.

Even so, Meeches said she feels lucky because no one was home at the time.

She was in her car when the storm hit and she decided to wait it out parked in front of the band office.

Frieda Meeches looks over her home on Thursday, a day after a tornado moved it from its foundation. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Hydro poles, lines damaged

The tornado and accompanying storm system also knocked down hydro lines and poles and damaged trees in its path.

As of noon Thursday, more than 18,000 Hydro customers across the province were without power. Of that number, 6,500 were in the area that includes Portage la Prairie and Long Plain.

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said infrastructure took a big hit in that area. The utility said on Twitter it expects to have power restored to the area Thursday evening.

"We've got multiple damage there to our infrastructure — lines that are gone, down, broken poles. With the heavy rain, it's making access to some of the areas where infrastructure is even more difficult," Powell said.

Environment Canada is also investigating a possible tornado touchdown in the Hartney–Deloraine–Lauder area, where two funnel clouds were seen and one might have briefly touched down.

with files from Sean Kavanagh