BY JEFFREY HEYDEN-KAYE
Courtesy of Ponoka News
A tornado touched down in Ponoka, thankfully causing no casaulties but some material damage.
At approximately 5 p.m. on June 30th a funnel cloud formed and made a steady decent into the north end of Ponoka causing damage to five homes and blowing garbage and debris around the streets. A few minutes later Environment Canada issued a tornado warning.
On the scale of severity, this one was of the lowest, an Enhanced Fujita Scale Zero, with peak winds up to 130 kms per hour, stated Environment Canada. Crews were in Ponoka on Canada Day inspecting the damage before confirming it was indeed a tornado. The many photos and videos posted on social media sites helped investigators in their determination.
Anyone in the Ponoka area at the time of the occurence can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time but for those affected, it could have been much worse.
Homeowner Jerry Siemens lost a large portion of his roof and his house sustained damage to the walls. He was on his way to his cabin at Pigeon Lake when he saw the funnel cloud in his rearview mirror. At the time he didn’t think much of it until he got a phone call from a neighbour to come home.
Siemens was convinced the tornado landed just seeing the damage at his and his neighbours’ homes. He said a barbecue was blown around and appears to have hit the house several times. Nearby somebody’s mattress had been blown onto the street. Siemens said the strangest thing of it all was that there was no water in the toilets.
Thankfully, the tornado damaged homes but left no injuries. A last minute change the night before made it so Siemens and his family were out of their home at the time, otherwise they would have been preparing to leave for the lake when the tornado hit.
“I’m just so thankful to God that we changed our plans,” he stated simply.
Shelley Dedio is another homeowner whose sun room and house was damaged. Dirt and dust covered two bedrooms and items were strewn about the yard and house. She was working at the time of the tornado but did not realize it affected her home. Dedio continued on with her work and eventually came home some time later to find the neighbourhood was in a state of disrepair.
Then she arrived at her house. “I got in my kitchen and the first thing I saw was my window smashed.”
In talking with Environment Canada investigators, she was told the force of the wind was so strong that even though there were a few small holes in the windows, it was enough to draw in a large amount of dirt into the bedrooms. Had it been stronger, she says they estimate the tornado would have blown the windows out and more. Indeed, this small of a tornado still caused a large dumpster and trees on Baker Road to be pushed around like ragdolls. The dumpster was found in the ditch.
The biggest take away for Dedio is gratitude that no residents were hurt. This event also highlights the need to be prepared for any emergency situation. “I think it’s about paying attention before.”
Upon arrival, Siemens found that the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD) and some neighbours had patched up the roof with a tarp, donated by a good Samaritan. Yes there was damage but there were no injuries, something Siemens is grateful for. He says he would take damage to his home over human injury any day.
“If it would’ve hit where there were people that would’ve been just devastating,” he stated.
Mobilization of the PFD was immediate while the Town of Ponoka activated its Emergency Operations Centre if an evacuation was called for.
Emergency crews including the Ponoka RCMP and EMS were on scene of the damage and town crews worked to ensure clean up and damage assessment was done. At the Ponoka Stampede grounds, Emergency Management Coordinator Ted Dillon for the Stampede was in communication with the town to ensure everyone was on the same page. At the same time, Ponoka Family and Community Support Services mobilized, collected an emergency action kit and prepared for the potential of moving people to the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
It was a mobilized effort on all fronts of the Town’s key emergency organizations.
PFD Chief Jamie Wilkinson said the department attended the location of the tornado touchdown. “We made the preventative steps of running out.”
Once they located the damaged homes the department used its ladder truck to access the Siemens’ roof where they could set up the tarp to protect the home.
“Our main thing was to make sure the people were safe,” said Wilkinson.
With the many people attending the Ponoak Stampede, the photos and videos shared were able to tell the story of the tornado as it wound its way into and out of town.
Ponoka News posted a six second video of the funnel cloud as it formed on its facebook page and the news quickly spread. The video has since been viewed over 81,000 times and has been shared over 1,230 times.