Construction worker rides out tornado in cab of excavator

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Construction worker rides out Barrie tornado in excavator cab

“It didn’t rock at all. I was in a 21-ton machine.” – Kyle Motyliwski

Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction News

When an EF-2 tornado hit south Barrie on Thursday, Kyle Motyliwski says he had no choice but to stay inside his excavator and ride out the storm.

Several labourers were working on a construction site on the south side of Mapleview Drive, near Prince William Way when the rain started and the wind picked up. 

“I just thought it was the severe thunderstorm they were calling for, so when the rain and wind started I turned away from the wind and then it hit all of a sudden.”

The tornado, with winds up to 210-kilometres per hour destroyed dozens of homes and injured 11 people in the subdivision across the road from where Motyliwski was working. The Ground Breakers Contracting crew, sub-contracted by Fernbrook and Tiffany Homes, is completing underground work for a new development.

“I didn’t think anything of it until there was debris flying everywhere and it started picking up faster and faster,” Motyliwski said. “Then it was an ‘Oh, f” moment.  Then my windows shattered and I was getting hammered with the debris from a house.

Unable to get out of the path of the storm, Motyliwski said he “did my best to grab the controls and turn, but the direction of the wind started south to north and then turned into west to east and then back around.”

Others ran to shelter in bulldozers and the office trailer was blown over just seconds after the region inspector and the business owner got outside.

Nearby,  three workers out of a crew of about 35 were inside a construction trailer on Pace’s Urban North site when it was picked up and thrown about 100 feet. Other workers found them and they were taken to hospital by ambulance, along with eight other injured people from the impacted neighbourhood. One of the workers had serious injuries and was kept in hospital..

They were taken to hospital by ambulance, along with eight other injured people. One of the workers had more serious injuries and was kept overnight.

Those who witnessed the tornado said it came out of nowhere and was over in just a few seconds. He shot a quick video from the cab of the excavator showing the flying debris at 2:38 and by 2:45 he was on the phone with his girlfriend to let her know he was ok.

Well he was being pelted with sand and other debris, Motyliwski says he was never worried that the excavator would tip.

“It didn’t rock at all,” he said. “I was in a 21-ton machine.”

Ironically, when the wind stopped, he received an extreme weather alert tornado warning on his phone.

Construction workers will return to the site on Tuesday to clean up the debris and resume work.

On Saturday, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman provided a video update and he reminded residents not to enter homes that have unsafe orders posted, noting they may have extensive structural damage. Houses must be assessed by a professional engineer when it has experienced structural damage, or if an unsafe order has been issued by the city’s building department.

“If your home has been deemed unsafe, you can’t just go in,” Lehman said. “We don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”

There are now 71 houses deemed uninhabitable.

“We know some of those will be repaired relatively quickly and others, of course, will be much longer.”

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