Two people are dead after being thrown from their vehicle by a tornado that touched down near Virden, Man., on Friday night, RCMP say.
A man and a woman, both 18 and from Melita — about 65 kilometres south of Virden — were pronounced dead at the scene, the Mounties said in a news release Saturday afternoon.
Virden RCMP responded to a report at about 8:10 p.m., local time, that a tornado touched down near Highway 83 and Road 50N in the rural municipality of Pipestone, just south of Virden, the release said.
When they arrived, they found extensive damage at a farm and a vehicle that had been thrown near the highway. The 54-year-old man inside that vehicle, from Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation, was taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Another vehicle, which carried the two people who died, was found more than a kilometre away from that site.
RCMP officers and emergency medical services personnel searched the surrounding area for other possible victims, but none were found.
RCMP in Virden, which is about 270 kilometres west of Winnipeg, are investigating.
Meteorologist Alysa Pederson said the tornado started as a storm warning on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, just west of Virden, at about 6:30 p.m.
A tornado warning was issued at 7:49 p.m., said Pederson, who works for Environment and Climate Change Canada. The storm moved east, then southeast, and at 7:55 p.m. the tornado formed and lasted roughly 10 to 15 minutes, she said.
STARS spokesperson Fatima Khawaja said an air ambulance was dispatched south of Virden Friday night but stood down by emergency medical services before they got to the scene.
The nearby Wallace District Fire Department responded at about 8 p.m. and helped rescue the man from the vehicle in the ditch, said fire Chief Brad Yochim. Several grain bins at a nearby farmyard were destroyed, though no one there was hurt and the home was not damaged, he said.
‘It rattled me to the core’
Tammy Skelton said she was in awe as she used her phone to take a video of a tornado forming above her house in Virden on Friday night.
But amazement turned to horror within seconds when the twister touched down near her home just before 8 p.m., local time, and started to pick up speed, hitting farms, snapping hydro lines and throwing vehicles from the highway.
“That thing just turned. It went from, you know, [something] cool to watch to a terrifying monster in a split second,” Skelton said.
“It rattled me to the core … watching people die in the field, and watching the guy in the car honking for somebody to save him.”
She said she stopped recording and dialled 911, worried about the people inside the white pickup truck she saw yanked up and mangled by the tornado and the red SUV she watched get thrown into a ditch.
“I’m like, just dispatch everybody that you have, because this is a mess,” she said.
Reeve of municipality offers sympathy
Skelton said she had trouble sleeping later that night, watching the clock until the early hours of Saturday morning as she ran back through what happened in her head.
“Would it have made a difference if I had phoned that in five minutes earlier, 10 minutes earlier, instead of videoing?” she said.
“I know that I can’t change it and I know that even if I reported it five minutes earlier, it’s not going to change that those people were there at that place and time. I know that, but still — it just plops around in your head, right?”
In her 20 years of running a horse and cattle farm in the area, Skelton said, she hasn’t seen anything like what she witnessed on Friday. Even a tornado that ripped through her yard a few years ago — tearing siding and the chimney off her house and scaring her so badly that she texted goodbye to family and friends as she sheltered in her basement — paled in comparison, she said.
“It shakes you. Like, it’s not the same as just watching one skip across the field and look pretty and kick up some dust,” Skelton said. “I’ve never seen anything so big and so terrifying.”
Debbie McMechan, the reeve of the rural municipality of Two Borders, which includes Melita, offered thoughts and prayers for the families of the two young people from the town who died.
“A loss of this nature resonates deeply through a rural area, as many folks will have watched these young people grow from little children to adults,” she said in an emailed statement.
“We will mourn the loss of their presence in our lives and the promise of their futures.”
Local authorities led response effort
A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said the province’s emergency measures organization, fire commissioner’s office, health department and other agencies were in contact with local authorities, who took the lead on responding.
No request for assistance was received from local authorities, the spokesperson said. The emergency alert was broadcast to people in the the rural municipalities of Pipestone (including Oak Lake Reserve) and the rural municipality of Sifton (including Oak Lake and Deleau).
Manitoba Hydro crews were restoring broken power lines in the Virden area as about half a dozen customers remained without power on Saturday morning.
Spokesperson Bruce Owen asked people not to touch downed lines or equipment that was blown around by the storm.
There are still no preliminary ratings of the twister on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which weather agencies use to measure the force of tornadoes, Pederson said. The results of those findings will come out in the next few days in a public weather summary.
A collaborative team with people from the weather agency, the Northern Tornadoes Project and the University of Manitoba went to the scene to survey the damage Saturday morning, she said.
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