High winds, heavy rain tear through district

Several Rainy River District communities are reeling after high winds and torrential rains swept across the district for the second time in as many days.
Residents in most of the district’s communities are waking up to flooded areas and structural damage after last night’s storms which follow on the heels of yesterday morning’s high winds.
Damage reports were pouring in this morning from across the district. In Crozier, former clerk Faye Flatt reported heavy damage and very high waters.
“The LaVallee River is overflowing and at the houses around it, people are wading up to their waists,” she said. “LaVallee Road North and South are completely under water.”
“At the Hall Road, a brand new house is gone, completely gone, and the power’s been out in the area since about 1 p.m. yesterday,” she added.
Barns and houses in the Devlin area have sustained substantial damage overnight.
“Our community centre roof is gone and I’m just pulling the tin off our signs at the store,” noted Pam Carlson, owner of Greensides store in Devlin.
“Three resident’s homes are damaged very badly that I know of,” noted Devlin clerk Laurie Witherspoon. “There’s numerous barns and outhouses and trees and that sort of thing down.”
Routes 613 and 615, and parts of Highway 71, among others, are flooded. “On Highway 71 [near Highway 404] we’re just trying to think of a name for the new lake there right now,” laughed OPP Cst. Cameron Howard.
Power is also out in areas east and west of Fort Frances with Hydro One struggling to make repairs.
“They tracked me down at home and asked me if we had any linesmen we could spare,” noted Mark McCaig, CEO of the Fort Frances Power Corporation which saw only slight damage and power flickers in town because of the storm.
In Fort Frances during the storm, some intersections were flooded and some vehicles were stalling with wet engines. An OPP cruiser stalled in the Portage Avenue subway was completely submerged as the water crept up above the sidewalks and into the pumphouse there.
The Fort Frances Fire Department reported that “throughout the town there’s sewers backing up and flooding basements.”
The Memorial Sports Centre was also wet this moring as was the main hall, auditorium and kitchen floors flooded after water built up on the building’s roof and the Fort Frances Clinic also had a flooded basement this morning.
Last night during the storm Fort Frances OPP were busy responding to alarms set off by the lightning.
“Any time there’s an electrical storm, it affects all the alarms in town,” noted Cst. Howard. “I checked the log this morning and couldn’t read all the calls.”
Many communities were hit hours earlier by yesterday’s early morning winds.
Nestor Falls, Morson, Manitou Rapids and Emo all reported heavy damage after the winds tore across the district between 6-7 a.m.
In Nestor Falls, trees were knocked down throughout the community and many lodge owners suffered damaged buildings, boats and docks.
“It laid the trees flat and broke them down,” said Steve Paulsen from the Angler’s Pro Shop in Nestor Falls.
“I guess some cabins got moved a little off their foundations and there were some trees on vehicles and on cabins,” he added.
One resort owner woke up to find his dock had been blown away and sunk further out in the lake.
“His boats were all floating out there, they were still on the dock,” said Paulsen.
“Actually I think my trailer I’m living in might be hit,” he added. “I sent somebody to look at my bike and see if it’s okay and he said it was but my trailer had a tree on it.”
At Manitou Forest Products, just east of Barwick, the mill is closed down indefinitely after the winds wreaked havoc in the mill yard.
“Not good,” summed up mill manager Dale Kaemingh. “I don’t know the damage but it’s probably anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 worth.”
The winds tore part of the roof of the Manitou Forest Products saw mill and snapped two hydro poles carrying the mill’s transformers in half bringing them crashing to the ground.
The mill and offices were still without power yesterday evening.
The wind also flipped over a cube van, demolished a sawdust shed there and knocked down several of the surrounding trees.
“It’s kind of hit and miss,” said Kaemingh. “Not 20 yards away there was a pile of lumber and it didn’t touch that.”
North of Emo, on Off Lake Road, farmers Ralph and Jaquelyn Hunsperger’s hay barn was a pile of debris and their manure barn was spread across a field this morning.
Ralph Hunsperger got up at 6:30 a.m. for his morning shower but went back to bed after finding his power was out.
Moments later, he was back up and watched winds tear down his trees through the bedroom window.
“He came back to bed, heard a crack, and looked out the window and a row of spruce trees was going down like dominoes,” recalled Jaquelyn.
Sheet metal, lumber and tree limbs dot the Hunsperger’s property and a few confused hens were sticking their heads out of what remained of their coop in the hay barn.
Their silo, although still standing, had a twisted ladder and had either imploded or been struck, with huge dents marking one side.
“I looked up and said ‘Look at the ladder on the silo,’ then we noticed the wrinkles,” said Ralph Husperger.
Further up Off Lake Road resident Michael Ballnik could not get out to get to work at the Fort Frances Times.
“I can’t get out, there’s hydro lines and trees all over our road,” he said. “And my neighbour’s, where I used to walk up to his place and it was solid bush, now there’s about a 300 foot path.”
“Out on the lake all you can hear is chainsaws,” he added.
Heavy winds also hit Morson, where houseboats where lifted out of the water, freezers blown across properties and several vehicles were crushed by tree limbs and boats.
The winds were still strong enough to bring down trees east of Atikokan with a swath of trees torn and broken for several miles between Seine River and Flanders near Highway 11.
“Trees were down from the other side of the Seine River Bridge to Flander’s,” noted Leon DeGagne, who has loggers working in the district’s west end.
“For about five or six miles, they were broken in every which direction,” he added. “You could tell they were fresh because they were broken off at the top.”
Environment Canada have not confirmed whether any tornadoes have touched down but will be investigating.
“We’re not sure is the answer as of 8 a.m.,” said Environment Canada spokesperson Heather Maki. “The reports from Rainy River were unconfirmed.
“We did have some severe weather up there but we’re still checking to see if it actually was a tornado,” she added.
Environment Canada also reported that about 70 mm of rain fell on Fort Frances between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m.