December 16, 2018

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Survivors of deadly tornado grateful for their lives

Shawn Gurke, a resident of Alonsa, watched a truck floating in Lake Manitoba after a tornado hit on Friday.

MELISSA VERGE/THE BRANDON SUN

Shawn Gurke, a resident of Alonsa, watched a truck floating in Lake Manitoba after a tornado hit on Friday.

ALONSA- One person is dead and several others were left without homes after a tornado ripped through Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa on Friday evening.

Seventy-seven-year-old Jack Furrie was killed, and his house was reduced to nothing but a foundation by Saturday morning.

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ALONSA- One person is dead and several others were left without homes after a tornado ripped through Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa on Friday evening.

Seventy-seven-year-old Jack Furrie was killed, and his house was reduced to nothing but a foundation by Saturday morning.

The ones who made it through the night were grateful to be alive. 

Jill Catagas who lives in Brandon had just arrived at the beach to enjoy the August long weekend when the destruction started.

"I pulled in actually and a neighbour came running and said ‘look behind your van, there’s a tornado behind you,’" Catagas said. 

Catagas said she was lucky she could escape to the home of a local resident who was camping on the beach but lived nearby. 

"There was at least 40 of us in their basement," she said.

Alonsa-area resident Shawn Burke takes a photo of his boat that was badly damaged after a tornado hit Margaret Bruce Beach on Friday.

MELISSA VERGE/THE BRANDON SUN

Alonsa-area resident Shawn Burke takes a photo of his boat that was badly damaged after a tornado hit Margaret Bruce Beach on Friday.

"We had about a dozen children so we threw them all under mattresses in the basement."

From there they watched through a window as the tornado ran its unpredictable course.

"It was within probably 40 ft. from the house from hitting it," she said.

As a result of the storm the owner of the house they were staying in lost all of his bales of hay.

Not only that, but "there’s cows missing," she said.

Although Catagas’ trailer survived, the back window of her van was smashed by the storm. Her son’s trailer was not as lucky. It was reduced to a pile of rubble in front of her parked vehicle.

"We had everyone checking campers making sure everyone was accounted for, Catagas said.

The buildings surrounding the beach toilets were also destroyed. They were completely gone, leaving just toilets, which sat out in the middle of the sand on Saturday afternoon and offered no privacy. Someone had placed the men’s sign on one toilet and the women’s on the other- they had survived the tornado.

A house  just off Bluff Creek Road near Margaret Bruce Beach has been completely destroyed after a tornado on Friday.

MELISSA VERGE/THE BRANDON SUN

A house just off Bluff Creek Road near Margaret Bruce Beach has been completely destroyed after a tornado on Friday.

Trailers had been destroyed, houses had been flattened, but some of the strangest things were still in one piece. Glass bottles of liquor stood upwards in the sand seemingly untouched from Friday night’s tragedy.

Still, the overall damage was incredible.

One resident of Alonsa said he was shocked that more people weren’t killed. Shawn Gurke cursed often as he drove around in his pickup and looked at the damage Saturday afternoon.

As of Saturday at approximately 1 p.m. Bluff Creek Road that led to the beach was closed off to the public, and Gurke, a volunteer fire fighter with the community invited The Sun to come along for the ride.

During the drive up the beach, Gurke found a tractor that was upside down, cabins that were reduced to nothing, and a truck floating along in the water. He also found his boat that had been badly damaged by the tornado.

Gurke usually camped at the Margaret Bruce Beach, but for the August long weekend this year he took his family to Clear Lake instead.

Although his family was okay, the $60,000 boat he had left behind that he said he built with his dad was badly damaged.

"It must weigh 3,500 pounds easy. It’s a big commercial aluminum boat but the tornado must have flown my boat way over here," Gurke said. 

The buildings surrounding the toilets at Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa were completely destroyed by a tornado Friday night. Only the toilets themselves remained.

MELISSA VERGE/THE BRANDON SUN

The buildings surrounding the toilets at Margaret Bruce Beach near Alonsa were completely destroyed by a tornado Friday night. Only the toilets themselves remained.

It was washed up on the sand, the metal bent at awkward angles and hay and water floating in the place where there used to be seats.

Unfortunately for Gurke, he had no insurance on it.

"I’ll never have another boat like it," he said. 

As he drove around he found the prop for the boat amongst the wreckage.

"I was hoping for a souvenir and that’s it," he said. "I could hang it up on the mantle."

The storm hit yesterday evening at around 8:30 p.m, according to John Paul Cragg, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

"Just south of Silver Ridge there were reports of a tornado touching down," Cragg said. 

"We do get a lot of tornados but often they don't hit anything," he said.  "This is typical of a stronger tornado hitting buildings in a more populated area of the prairies."

» Twitter: @Melverge5

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