Tornado in Alberta

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on July 24, 2000. Partner content is not updated.

It took just 20 minutes, but the terror seemed to last an eternity. Just as people were sitting down for dinner about 7 p.m. on Friday at the Green Acres campground on Pine Lake, Alta., 30 km southeast of Red Deer, the sky began to blacken.
This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on July 24, 2000. Partner content is not updated. It took just 20 minutes, but the terror seemed to last an eternity. Just as people were sitting down for dinner about 7 p.m. on Friday at the Green Acres campground on Pine Lake, Alta., 30 km southeast of Red Deer, the sky began to blacken.


Tornado in Alberta

It took just 20 minutes, but the terror seemed to last an eternity. Just as people were sitting down for dinner about 7 p.m. on Friday at the Green Acres campground on Pine Lake, Alta., 30 km southeast of Red Deer, the sky began to blacken. Then came the winds and hail, with stones the size of golf balls and baseballs. Finally, the killer tornado struck in a 500-m swath, overturning boats, tossing cars and trailers, and snapping trees as if they were matchsticks. In the end, at least nine people, including a two-year-old child, died and more than 130 were injured in Canada's worst tornado disaster since 1987, when 27 were killed as a twister swept through Edmonton.

Rob Jones, a teacher from Blue Ridge, Alta., had just lit the barbecue with his family at his lakeside vacation cottage, just one-half kilometre from the campground, when the tornado struck. "A big white wall of water came across the lake and you could hear what sounded like a jet engine at the same time," he told Maclean's on Saturday. "That would have been the tornado." Jones, 44, witnessed the destruction caused by the Edmonton tornado, but said of Green Acres: "I've never seen anything like this before."

Green Acres held about 500 trailers and most of them were damaged by the tornado. The 300 km/h winds hurled several of them into the lake with people inside who had to swim to safety. The injured were taken to hospitals in Red Deer, Calgary and Edmonton, 170 km to the north. Surveying the scene on Saturday, Red Deer RCMP Const. Dan Doyle said: "It's like ground zero. It's as though a steamroller had gone through it and flattened it out. It's unbelievable to see what Mother Nature can do."

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein drove from his Calgary home on Friday night as soon as he heard about the disaster. "It's overwhelming to say the least," Klein said. "It must have been a terrifying experience."

Cottages across the lake from the campground were destroyed, and in the water, huge hay bales from nearby farms, along with overturned boats and campground debris, interfered with search and rescue efforts over the weekend. Said Jones: "In the middle of the lake, there is this pile of garbage and junk and trailers and propane bottles and probably 30 boats upside down."

Environment Canada had issued a severe weather warning, with the possibility of tornadoes in the area, 45 minutes before the storm hit but, added Jones, "we get these all the time, so you don't really think anything of it." In fact, there was probably little the campground people could have done to protect themselves. "It just takes you by surprise," explained Jones. "You just don't realize the force of nature or how helpless you are. When it's going to do something, you're helpless. There is absolutely nothing you can do."

Maclean's July 24, 2000