A powerful tornado swept through a southwestern Ontario town on Sunday killing one person and causing severe devastation in the picturesque community on the shores of Lake Huron. It was the most powerful tornado to hit Ontario in years, officials said.
Downtown businesses, century old buildings and several churches lost their roofs and upper floors as the twister ripped through Goderich. Images show downed power lines, trees and debris strewn across streets, while witnesses described cars being picked up and thrown like toys.
Police identified the victim as Norman Laberge, 61, of Lucknow, Ontario, who was working in a salt mine in the town when the storm hit.
At least 37 people have been treated for minor injuries and no one has been reported missing, said Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Bill Klym.
Randy Mawson of Environment Canada said the town was battered by winds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, considered an F2- or F3-level tornado. The province hasn't seen a storm that powerful since 1996, he said.
"This is the worst damage I've ever seen," said Mawson, who has been investigating storms for 36 years.
Goderich officials have placed the town under a state of emergency and cut off natural gas to the damaged areas. Mayor Delbert Shewfelt asked residents to stay out of the downtown core.
Cassandra Phillips-Grande, 16, was in a coffee shop in the town square when the wind started to pick up.
"We saw tables and chairs outside of the cafe flying and then saw an SUV roll like a tumbleweed right in front," she said, adding that everyone in the shop moved to the back of the building.
"About two seconds later we heard this really big crash and the roof collapsed in the spot where we had all been," she said. "When we went outside we saw that some apartments had collapsed right in front of the cafe."
Phillips-Grande said she tried to help some of the people who were injured.
"We saw some people with gashes and one person had a brick fall on their head but no one was hurt too badly," she said.
Donna Lovell, a waitress the Candlelight Restaurant and Tavern who has lived in Goderich all her life, said the storm struck quickly.
"We didn't see anything and then all you hear is sirens. From what I understand it sort of literally tore the town in half," she said.
Lovell said most of the destruction is in the area of Victoria Street.
"The roof of the church, I heard, is on the highway. There used to be a restaurant called the Burger Bar, there's no longer a Burger Bar," she said.