Elisa Humphreys knew she needed help after a tornado levelled two structures on her central Alberta property over the weekend.
But her social media plea for assistance wound up attracting dozens of local volunteers who came forward to help clean up the shattered remnants of the house and mobile home that once stood there.
Humphreys estimated there were 100 helpers at her property just northeast of Carstairs on Sunday afternoon — so many that one person’s only task was directing others where to park. But she said Saturday’s tornado left more than enough work to go around.
“It’s like broken-house confetti for a few kilometres down the road,” Humphreys said in a telephone interview, pausing frequently to personally thank each volunteer.
“It’s like an airplane crash and a debris field.”
Five homes were completely destroyed after the twister passed between Carstairs and Didsbury early Saturday afternoon, Carstairs fire chief Jordan Schaffer said Saturday. That included one home where rescuers had to extricate a woman from her basement.
Although other homes were damaged, no one was killed. There have been no reports of serious injuries, although numerous animals, including cows, chicken and a horse, died or were euthanized, police said.
Marianna Greenhough, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said two meteorologists were in the area Sunday to conduct a damage survey in conjunction with the Northern Tornadoes Project.
Greenhough said the information will then be used to determine the strength rating the tornado will get. But she called the damage “widespread,” adding it may take investigators time to view it all.
Humphreys said she was doing some work on her couch on Saturday afternoon and was getting herself a cup of coffee when she got an emergency alert notice.
“I hadn’t got out of my pyjamas. I didn’t have a bra on, I hadn’t brushed my teeth and then the alarm went off on my phone and I looked out the window, and there was just a huge tornado,” she said.
Since she lived in a mobile home, it wasn’t safe to stay, and she said the other house on her property was sitting on I-beams and not attached to a foundation. So she jumped in her car in her PJs and drove away, then watched from a distance as the huge funnel cloud “shredded” her property.
Humphreys quickly returned when the tornado passed and found two of her horses injured, one of which had to be put down by a vet. A neighbour found another horse down the road. In a nearby coulee, she said trees were stacked on top of each other close to three storeys high.
On Sunday, volunteers found family photos among the debris and saved them in resealable bags. One took her injured cat to the vet. Many offered gift cards — she had $500 worth of them in her hands while she spoke with The Canadian Press.
She said she hoped some would find some clothes, noting she’s spent the day in a borrowed outfit after seeking shelter with her son’s friend on Saturday night.
Humphreys said she was not insured due to the types of structures on her property.
She said she’s not surprised at all by the generosity from the community. One of her neighbours, who she said lost his whole farm in the tornado, even offered support.
“When I talked to him on the phone, he said, ‘If there’s anything you need, Elisa, let me know,'” she said.
Alberta’s minister of public safety and emergency services, Mike Ellis, tweeted Saturday that the Alberta Emergency Management Agency is working with local officials.
“To those affected, know that the province is here for you during this difficult time,” the tweet said.
Greenhough said Alberta typically sees 15 tornadoes per year, based on data collected between 1980 and 2009. This year, she said the province is already up to 13.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2023.