Manitoulin’s Microburst

Sunday marks 10th anniversary of Island’s destructive storm

MANITOULIN—It was 10 years ago this Sunday, July 17 that the hot, humid Manitoulin sky turned an ominous dark blue and winds began to howl, leaving a path of destruction across the length of Manitoulin Island and thousands without power, some for days, in what Environment Canada, after investigation of the unusual weather event, defined as a ‘microburst.’

Expositor staffers were hard at work that Monday night, putting the finishing touches on their stories before beginning the layout process that would see them working into the wee hours of the morning when the office went dark and electricity failed as the storm downed power lines. That late night drew even longer as staffers worked to compile the stories of Islanders and visitors Island-wide to be included in that Wednesday paper, July 19, 2006. Power was provided by generators moved to near the office to allow production to continue and provide light to work by.

Staff writer Michael Erskine wrote of the damage sustained in rural Northeast Town and the swath of damage from Wilson Street to Harbour View Road and on to Harbor Vue Marina.

Denis Riche and his family were in their camper at Green Acres when the full fury of the storm hit the area, toppling trees and sending one hurtling into the side of their camper.

“I grabbed the kids and went down to the water,” he told The Expositor that night. “It was the only place I could think of where we might be safe. There was stuff flying all around us.”

Full grown mature trees lay strewn about the park and numerous camper trailers were crushed. “I couldn’t get out,” said one man. “The trees had totaled my car on the one side of the trailer and another had crushed my boat.”

“Harbor Vue Marina owner Stan Ferguson and his crews were busily tying down docks and securing the area, but the devastation at his marina had him visibly shaken,” The Expositor reported 10 years ago. “Huge boats were toppled from their moorings in the shipyard and damage could not even begun to be tallied.”

The following week’s paper had numerous storm stories, including the sense of community that came from the storm’s aftermath, with Green Bay farmers rallying to help one another rebuild, such as the case of John Skippen (who had his cattle trapped by a partial collapse), Ernie and Margot Kerhls, Norm Robinson, Dave Robinson and Blake Burnett, who all lost barns that day. Many more area farms lost parts of their barns or roofs from the winds that clocked in at between 120 and 170 kilometres an hour (the definition of a microburst and measuring 1 on the Fujita scale).

Blake and Janice Burnett’s century-old farm at Burnett’s Sideroad and Townline Road in Sheguiandah was the site of a work bee the next weekend that saw some 60 individuals pitching in to clean up the mess where their barns, two of them, used to be, including the help of 50 women who fed the hungry masses.

“I knew something was brewing but I didn’t know it was going to be that bad,” he told then-editor Jim Moodie.

“As the storm gathered force, coming from the southwest, Mr. Burnett hopped off of his tractor and hunkered beside it,” Mr. Moodie wrote. “I wasn’t in the direct path of it,” Mr. Burnett said. “It went by on one side of me, 30 to 40 feet away.”

Fire departments across the Island were also kept busy dealing with pole fires and small brush fires as a result, as were Hydro One crews who had most of the power restored to Manitoulin inhabitants by Friday, four days later, but with small pockets still going without hydro until Sunday, July 23. To get Manitoulin Island up and running, it took the support of 62 linemen, 19 foresters and 12 field support workers who replaced 738 poles, 1,300 kilometres of line and 1,000 cross-arms.

At sea, Canadian Yacht Charters proprietor Ken Blodgett reported that one of his fleet, a 42-foot trawler, was in the Clapperton Channel near Harbour Island when it was flipped over by the wind.

“There were two adults and three kids, from Michigan,” Mr. Blodgett told The Expositor. “They got caught by the unexpected wind, which blew the boat on its side. Then it started to fill with water.”

The family put out a Mayday call and abandoned ship, while the trawler began to sink. The family was picked up, unharmed, by the OPP marine unit from Blind River. The retrieval effort for the vessel came in at approximately $30,000 and the boat was deemed “a total write-off.”

In Sheguiandah, Manitoulin’s hardest hit village, Ed Heis was working at the Little Current recreation centre when the storm hit. Worrying about his 95-year-old mother, the late Idena Heis, he left work in the midst of the storm and drove home. His sixth sense was correct, as when he pulled into his home, he found that a large tree had crashed through the roof of his house, just as his mother was on her way to the second floor. Ms. Heis was shaken, but unharmed. The mother and son had to temporarily vacate their home, but received a whole new second storey, thanks to insurance coverage.

Just a few short steps away, at Whitehaven Cottages, Bill Strain told this newspaper of the truck that was flattened by felled trees and a cabin that was completely removed from its footings.

The 2006 July paper is filled with such stories from across the Island—a storm that will not soon be forgotten.