James Blacksmith said the windows on his vehicle were blown out by a tornado in Manitoba on Aug. 7 before it was tossed over and over again before landing on its roof. A first responder checks on an overturned vehicle at the scene where a tornado touched down, uprooting trees and overturning two vehicles near Virden, Man., in a Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, handout photo published to social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Wallace District Fire Department, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘Happy that I’m alive:’ Survivor recalls deadly Manitoba tornado hitting Jeep

Blacksmith spent four days being treated for a fractured vertebra, scrapes and bruises

James Blacksmith closes his eyes and goes back to the moment he saw a pine tree viciously uprooted from the earth and topple onto his Jeep’s roof.

Within seconds, the windows burst from the force of a deadly tornado and the Manitoba man struggled against wind and spiralling glass to hold his head down.

“If that tree hadn’t landed on me, I think that tornado would have done more damage,” Blacksmith says. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now.”

It’s difficult for the 54-year-old from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to reflect on the traumatic evening of Aug. 7 on a farm near Virden. It’s especially hard remembering the white truck with a teenage couple inside pulling up beside him beneath the trees.

Shayna Barnesky and Carter Tilbury, both 18, were killed when their truck was swept up by the twister and landed a kilometre away. RCMP have said the teens from Melita, Man., were thrown from the vehicle.

Environment and Climate Change Canada recently upgraded the rating for the tornado to an EF-3 on the five-level Enhanced Fujita Scale, with estimated wind speeds of 260 km/h.

Blacksmith thinks back on the signs in the sky that night. He had been at his brother’s house nearby and was driving home along Highway 83 around 8 p.m. There were some clouds, but most had passed towards the east.

A remaining black patch of menacing clouds sat right above the highway. As Blacksmith got closer, he noticed rings in the clouds, but couldn’t see if they were rotating.

Suddenly, a big piece of hail hit his Jeep, so Blacksmith thought it was safer to get off the road.

He pulled onto a farm property and under a row of pine trees hoping to shield his vehicle from an onslaught of hail. A white truck, which had been travelling the other direction on the highway, followed him in.

“I took a look over to my left to where he parked. He started backing up pretty fast. By the time I turned around and looked upwards, that’s when the tornado hit.”

The next few moments are a blur. The tree landing on top of his vehicle. The windows blowing out. The twister eventually tossed the tree off, and the Jeep started tumbling and tumbling with Blacksmith inside.

It came to a stop on its roof. As quickly as the tornado had started, it was over, Blacksmith says.

ALSO READ: Small Manitoba town mourning after well-liked teens killed by tornado

Nearby storm chasers and first responders rushed to the farmyard where damaged equipment was strewn across the property. Blacksmith honked his horn to indicate he needed help.

Crews had to wait for the power lines to be turned off before they cut off the Jeep’s driver’s door and helped him free.

Blacksmith was taken to hospital. He spent four days being treated for a fractured vertebra, scrapes and bruises. While the pain persists, Blacksmith says he knows the outcome could have been different.

Wild weather isn’t uncommon in southwestern Manitoba and many farmers have tales of bins being thrown and barns toppled. The deadly tornado was not the first Blacksmith had encountered — or even the most recent.

But a death, let alone two, is rare. The last was in 2018 when a 77-year-old man was killed in a tornado in Alonsa, west of Lake Manitoba.

Less than a week after surviving the tornado, Blacksmith saw the telltale dark sky forming while he was driving with a family member near the community of Alexander, 50 kilometres east of Virden. Blacksmith says he was much further away when the twister touched down.

Blacksmith says there’s also the time seven years ago when a tornado tore off part of his roof. The twister that tore through Sioux Valley First Nation in 2013 also ripped a home from its foundation and sent two people to hospital.

“I’m just lucky and happy that I’m alive.”

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

News and WeatherTornado

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATED: Red Deer has nine active COVID-19 cases

Number of cases increased by 107 Friday

“My world exploded,” says Bentley-area farmer who’s swather was struck by a motorist

Dennis Duncan was a mile from home when his swather was struck by another travelling at high speeds

Man sentenced to 7 years for gas-and-dash death of Alberta gas station owner

Ki Yun Jo was killed after Mitchell Sydlowski sped off in a stolen cube van without paying for $198 of fuel

New owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire looking to be big part of the community

Randy and Alison Patton are the new owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire

Alberta shifting to ‘targeted approach’ to asymptomatic COVID-19 testing

Alberta’s central zone down to 29 active cases

Notley to stay on as Alberta NDP leader for 2023 provincial election

The NDP took almost all of Edmonton but few seats outside of the city

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

Death of mother grizzly a ‘big loss’ for bear population in Banff park: experts

The bear, known as No. 143, spent most of her time in the backcountry of Banff

U.S.-Canadian border closure reportedly could extend through November

The border between the two countries has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21

Threat of fall federal election eases as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Congeniality emerged as fears of second wave of COVID-19 were heightened after another case increase

Most Read