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'The next thing I know ... things were flying out of my room' (20 photos)

'I opened my front door and saw all the damage on the street, and that's when I really got scared because I’ve never experienced anything like that before,' says resident

The command post at St. Gabriel the Archangel school is jammed with emergency vehicles, personnel and those shaken by the tornado that hit south east Barrie Thursday afternoon.

The tornado hit shortly after 2:30 p.m. and immediately emergency crews descended on the area to survey the damage and help those who needed it.  

A shaken Dakota Rodgers, 22, told BarrieToday that when the storm hit, she was getting ready for work while packing for a camping trip planned for this weekend.

Rodgers said the power went out, the rain got heavy and shingles started flying everywhere around her window.

"The next thing I know the window just busts right open, things were flying out of my room," said Rodgers.

"I flung myself into my closet and pulled on the door to close it. I was screaming, my neighbour heard me," she explained. "I grabbed my phone and called my mom and told her a tornado just hit our house."

Rodgers said the front door to her Monarchy Street home also flew off the hinges and the wind stirred up items in the house.

"The warnings came after the fact. My phone started buzzing with the emergency alert and my house had already been hit," said Rodgers.

An evacuation of many homes took place with residents saying they were told by police that several gas leaks were happening along the affected streets.

Nia Shapompay and her three children, aged 5, 9 and 11, congregated at the command post, unsure what to do next. Their home is on Majesty Boulevard, one of the hardest-hit streets.

“My kids were actually preparing to go outside, they love to play in the rain. I looked outside when it started raining hard, but then I saw the wind and the grass was blowing hard, I told them to get inside quickly,” said Shapompay.

“I saw the neighbour's trampoline flying through the air. I told my kids to rush down to the basement. They were screaming and crying, it was pretty scary,” she admitted.

Shapompay said the whole thing was over very quickly, saying “it felt like a couple minutes but it could have been less.”

“I opened my front door and saw all the damage on the street, and that's when I really got scared because I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” said Shapompay. “I just moved to Barrie in May and this is pretty scary. We have damage to our roof, but compared to homes on my street, I must say I feel blessed we are all OK.”

The area the tornado hit is in the southeast of the city, which is Councillor Mike McCann's Ward 10.

McCann said he was in Toronto for business and got a call asking if he was OK. He rushed home when he heard a storm ripped through the area.

"I'm out here now checking with folks to see how they are. Many are understandably shook up," said McCann. "I'm doing what I can to comfort them and let them know it's going to be better tomorrow."

McCann was at the emergency services command post and said he is hearing the same thing from everyone he speaks to.

"I have constantly heard that the police have been absolutely outstanding and the response has been amazing," said McCann. "Obviously everyone is in a bit of shock, but the common thread is that city officials, OPP, Barrie police, everyone is doing a great job. This is what they're trained for, but I don't think anyone is really trained for this."

Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard was surveying the damage on Sun King Crescent and checking in with residents.

Brassard said he was just pulling into his office when the skies went dark and the wind picked up. He immediately checked his phone and saw reports of collapsed buildings.

Brassard said he called his staff in Ottawa on the way to the area affected and instructed them to reach out to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair.

“I could tell there was serious damage as I reached Huronia Road and then Madelaine Drive. I could see the knocked down trees and power lines,” said Brassard. “I have a lot of friends in this area, they’re really shaken. It's tough to see, you listen to what they need and do what you can to get it, but seeing their emotions is really tough.”

“I’ve seen the videos and it's a big tornado, cutting a clear path through these streets,” said Brassard. “Homes are right off their foundations, cars flipped and an RV flipped and tossed a few houses from where it originally was. The fact that we’re hearing of only a few serious injuries is quite amazing.”

Officials said that eight people had been sent to hospital with four having serious injuries.