Barrie, Ont., tornado has left 71 homes unsafe to enter, but cleanup has begun, mayor says

A tornado that tore through a neighbourhood in Barrie, Ont., on Thursday has left 71 homes unsafe to enter, the city's mayor said on Saturday.

Officials assessing damaged houses, removing debris, providing help to affected residents

Barrie, Ont. Mayor Jeff Lehman says 71 homes have been deemed unsafe to enter after an EF-2 tornado tore through a neighbourhood in the city's southeast end on Thursday. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

A tornado that tore through a neighbourhood in Barrie, Ont., on Thursday has left 71 homes unsafe to enter, the city's mayor said on Saturday.

Jeff Lehman, in a Twitter video, said residents are picking up items from their homes damaged by the EF-2 tornado on Thursday afternoon, but they are having to be escorted into the neighbourhood where the twister touched down in the city's southeast end.

The tornado sent 10 people to hospital. Two were still in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries as of Friday.

"We don't want anyone else getting hurt," Lehman said.

Lehman said cleanup is continuing, with officials assessing damaged homes, removing debris from the streets and providing help to affected residents. The tornado damaged about 150 homes along a path roughly five kilometres long. The path was up to 100 metres wide at some points.

"We know some of those will be repaired relatively quickly, and others, of course, like some of these across the street, will be much longer," he said.

Lehman added that there is a "huge amount of work already going on" as rebuilding and recovery continues.

One road in the area, Prince William Way, has been reopened to traffic for local residents and recovery crews only. The tornado hit in the area of Mapleview Drive and Prince William Way.

Utility companies, including Alectra Utilities and Enbridge Gas, are on the scene to restore power and gas where possible, Lehman said.

Two women rake and shovel debris outside homes damaged by a tornado in Barrie on Thursday. (CBC)

The area where the tornado hit is currently a restricted area and there is no access without proper identification.

The city of Barrie said in a news release on Saturday that it is urging residents who don't live in the restricted area to stay away from closed streets and the surrounding area because it said additional traffic impedes the recovery work.

According to the city, there have been reports of people trying to enter damaged homes on which unsafe orders have been posted. 

"It is not safe and you could become injured or trapped. The homes that have Unsafe Orders posted may have extensive structural damage. Stay out of damaged buildings until they can be assessed," the city said in the release.

If a home has sustained structural damage or if a homeowner has received an unsafe order from the city's building department, a report from a professional engineer is required, the city added.

'Stuff can be replaced, right?' resident says

John Hunwicks, a Peel Region paramedic who owns one of the homes deemed unsafe to enter, said what is important is that no one was killed by the tornado, saying he is grateful that "everybody's okay."

"It's shocking," Hunwicks said of the damage. But he added: "Stuff can be replaced, right? Houses can be rebuilt. Furniture and everything can be replaced."

Rebuilding is already underway in Barrie following the tornado. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize says the city is working with the community to get services turned back on, return people to their homes in cases where they are allowed to do so and support people who are unable to return.

"We're transitioning from a rescue operation to recovery and support," Mainprize said.

Mainprize said city engineers are still assessing the severely affected homes for structural stability before they begin removing the wreckage safely. 

Donations for residents fill local school gymnasium

Meanwhile, donations for residents affected by the tornado have filled a local school gymnasium. The city is now redirecting donations to the Salvation Army and asking donors to give either money or gift cards instead.

Laurie Thomas, a volunteer at Saint Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School, which has been turned into an evacuation centre, said food, clothing, toiletries and diapers have been dropped off by community members. There is a crisis support team at the school.

"We basically have everything that someone would need to make this moment a little bit better for them," she said.

On Friday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford toured the devastated area, thanking emergency crews, talking to residents and having a first-hand look at the damage.

Ford promised residents that the province will help if insurance companies don't cover the cost of repairs.

With files from Dale Manucdoc and Camille Feireisen