Pine Lake Tornado

BEM Chapter 2 - Pine Lake Tornado

On Friday, July 14, 2000, at approximately 7 p.m., a funnel cloud was forming in an intense storm near Highway 2 south of Innisfail, Alberta, and approximately 32 km west of Pine Lake, a recreational area located in the County of Red Deer. Moving eastward through Red Deer County, the tornado packed winds of up to 300 km/h at its centre. This tornado was an F3 scale tornado. The tornado touched down about 10 km west of Pine Lake. Continuing due east, the tornado cut a destructive path through the farmland west of the lake before hitting Green Acres Campground on the west shore. There were 11 people killed and another 140 injured, some critically. Another victim died later from injuries received as a result of the tornado. The tornado sped across the lake, tearing through trees and buildings on the east side. It continued to destroy property for about 10 km east of Pine Lake before lifting and eventually dissipating. The width of the tornado has been estimated at 2.4 km but the greatest destruction occurred within about 500 meters of the eye. While Green Acres campground was the scene of the tornados greatest human impact, dozens of farms and other properties in its 23 km path were also damaged. Green Acres campers were from Alberta (mostly the Calgary area), British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, United States, Holland and Switzerland.

Fire Response

At approximately 7 p.m. on July 14, 2000, numerous calls were received at the 911 Communications Centre in Red Deer, reporting that a tornado had struck the Green Acres Campground at Pine Lake.  As the campground is located in the Delburne fire district, the operator forwarded the calls to Delburne Fire Services. Realizing that they had the potential of a large-scale emergency, Delburne Fire Services immediately notified the County of Red Deer Fire District for mutual aid assistance.  Mutual aid resources were also requested and provided by the City of Red Deer, Town of Sylvan Lake, Elnora, Spruceview, Town of Innisfail, Town of Bowden and the nearby Nova Chemical plant.

On-Site Command Posts

1.      Large tents were acquired from firms in Red Deer and used to establish a permanent on-site Command Post at Green Acres, which was shared by the overall scene commander (Acting Fire Chief, County of Red Deer) and the RCMP.

2.      On July 17, a 2nd command post was set up on the east side of the lake in support of volunteers who wanted to assist farmers and rural residents with property cleanup and rehabilitation.

EMS/Hospital Response

1.      The County Emergency Operations Centre advised the Red Deer Regional Hospital of the situation and they implemented their Mass Casualty Response Plan.

2.      The first paramedics on scene established a triage area and began assessing and tagging patients for treatment and transportation to hospital.

3.      Red Deer Emergency Services provided ALS ambulances and their heavy rescue unit.

4.      Additional ambulance support was received from Lacombe, Sylvan Lake, Innisfail, Kneehill County (Three Hills) and Calgary, as well as a mass casualty unit from Nova Chemicals and Union Carbide.

5.      Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue units (STARS) in Edmonton and Calgary were requested to fly directly to the scene. 

6.      Seriously injured were transported by air and ground ambulance to Red Deer Regional Hospital. Approximately 30 patients were transferred to Edmonton and Calgary hospitals for specialized care available at those centres.

7.      Hospitals in Three Hills, Lacombe, Olds and Innisfail also received casualties.

8.      A triage centre was established in a hangar at the Red Deer Airport, where medical staff stabilized patients before they were air lifted to hospitals.

9.      Fixed wing air ambulances from across the province flew to Red Deer to airlift patients to the larger hospital centres.

Temporary Morgue

The campground owners' undamaged garage was used as a temporary morgue.

Evacuation of non-injured

Transit buses from Red Deer were dispatched to the scene to evacuate approximately 500 non-injured people from Green Acres to reception centres in the City of Red Deer. The City of Red Deer activated their disaster social services response plan and contacted Red Cross to set up the registration and inquiry service to assist in re-uniting families and accounting for people from the site.

Search & Rescue Response

1.      20 Search & Rescue teams responded and assisted in checking trailers and mobile homes on site for injured victims and to recover the dead.

2.      The entire site area at Green Acres was marked off into grids using barrier tape. All trailers and motor homes that had been searched were marked with spray paint so efforts were not being duplicated.

3.      100 soldiers from the Canadian Armed Forces assisted in site recovery operations.

Emergency Operations Centres

1.      The County's EOC was established at the county's fire station 1. On July 22, the county EOC began winding down operations, but maintained a reduced operational status until July 29.

2.      The City of Red Deer activated their EOC and provided mutual aid support.

State of Local Emergency

The County of Red Deer declared a state of local emergency under the Emergency Management Act. This declaration was made with two very important points in mind:

1.      The need for the extraordinary powers, available in section 19(1) of the Emergency Management Act. These powers allowed them to mandatorily evacuate people, control travel within the area, and obtain services and resources.

2.      Liability protection for the County and Responders

Survivors returning to the site

Several days after the event, arrangements were made for survivors to return to the site under escort. Survivors gathered at a local church near the EOC and were bussed to Pine Lake. Trained personnel and mental health professionals worked out of a tent on-site to provide emotional support. This operation continued for 3 days.


Visiting Dignitaries

1.      The Premier arrived at the site within a few hours of the event.

2.      The Prime Minister visited the site on July 19.

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing

     Several debriefings were held for emergency response personnel.

Challenges

1.      Roadways within the trailer park were nearly impassable due to downed trees and trailer debris. As a result, arriving emergency crews were staged in an open area above the trailer park, and crews were assigned search, rescue and recon missions on foot.

2.      Radio communications were nearly non-existent due to the low terrain or hollow effect of the area.

3.      All telephone communications were lost as a result of the tornado. Local cell towers were overloaded and shut down. The telephone company arrived early the next morning and began laying landlines to the on-site command post, which greatly enhanced operations between the county EOC and the command post.

4.      As ambulances could not travel to patients on the site because of debris, rescuers initially carried patients to waiting ambulances at the triage centre at the top of the hill. Golf carts were loaned by an adjacent golf course and used to transport casualties up the steep incline to the ambulances.

5.      Debris throughout the site caused many flat tires and a tire shop in Red Deer was contacted to set up a tire repair shop on site.

6.     The 500 non-injured people from Green Acres could not drive their vehicles off the site because of the extensive damage and debris. Many had no ID, money or credit cards, as these were lost in their trailers or motor homes.

7.      As campground registration records were destroyed in the tornado, it was difficult to determine who was at the campground.

8.      Because of the heat and humidity, a huge amount of bottled water was required at the site.  It is estimated that 30,000 bottles of water were delivered in a 7-day period.

9.      About 30 trailers had been blown off their sites and into the lake and there was concern that some victims could have been tossed into the lake with their trailers. Dive teams were brought in from Calgary Fire Department. As well, 6 navy divers from Comox assisted in underground recovery operations. No bodies were found in the lake.

10.   During the first few days, news media and private pilots flying low over the site to take pictures interfered with helicopter flight operations of both STARS and the RCMP. The Emergency Operations Centre requested NAVCAN to issue a NOTAM (notice to airmen) to control flights over the site.



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