James Blacksmith said the windows on his vehicle were blown out by a tornado in Manitoba on Aug. 7 before it was tossed over and over again before landing on its roof. A first responder checks on an overturned vehicle at the scene where a tornado touched down, uprooting trees and overturning two vehicles near Virden, Man., in a Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, handout photo published to social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Wallace District Fire Department, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

James Blacksmith said the windows on his vehicle were blown out by a tornado in Manitoba on Aug. 7 before it was tossed over and over again before landing on its roof. A first responder checks on an overturned vehicle at the scene where a tornado touched down, uprooting trees and overturning two vehicles near Virden, Man., in a Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, handout photo published to social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Wallace District Fire Department, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

‘Happy that I’m alive:’ Survivor recalls deadly Manitoba tornado hitting Jeep

Blacksmith spent four days being treated for a fractured vertebra, scrapes and bruises

James Blacksmith closes his eyes and goes back to the moment he saw a pine tree viciously uprooted from the earth and topple onto his Jeep’s roof.

Within seconds, the windows burst from the force of a deadly tornado and the Manitoba man struggled against wind and spiralling glass to hold his head down.

“If that tree hadn’t landed on me, I think that tornado would have done more damage,” Blacksmith says. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now.”

It’s difficult for the 54-year-old from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to reflect on the traumatic evening of Aug. 7 on a farm near Virden. It’s especially hard remembering the white truck with a teenage couple inside pulling up beside him beneath the trees.

Shayna Barnesky and Carter Tilbury, both 18, were killed when their truck was swept up by the twister and landed a kilometre away. RCMP have said the teens from Melita, Man., were thrown from the vehicle.

Environment and Climate Change Canada recently upgraded the rating for the tornado to an EF-3 on the five-level Enhanced Fujita Scale, with estimated wind speeds of 260 km/h.

Blacksmith thinks back on the signs in the sky that night. He had been at his brother’s house nearby and was driving home along Highway 83 around 8 p.m. There were some clouds, but most had passed towards the east.

A remaining black patch of menacing clouds sat right above the highway. As Blacksmith got closer, he noticed rings in the clouds, but couldn’t see if they were rotating.

Suddenly, a big piece of hail hit his Jeep, so Blacksmith thought it was safer to get off the road.

He pulled onto a farm property and under a row of pine trees hoping to shield his vehicle from an onslaught of hail. A white truck, which had been travelling the other direction on the highway, followed him in.

“I took a look over to my left to where he parked. He started backing up pretty fast. By the time I turned around and looked upwards, that’s when the tornado hit.”

The next few moments are a blur. The tree landing on top of his vehicle. The windows blowing out. The twister eventually tossed the tree off, and the Jeep started tumbling and tumbling with Blacksmith inside.

It came to a stop on its roof. As quickly as the tornado had started, it was over, Blacksmith says.

ALSO READ: Small Manitoba town mourning after well-liked teens killed by tornado

Nearby storm chasers and first responders rushed to the farmyard where damaged equipment was strewn across the property. Blacksmith honked his horn to indicate he needed help.

Crews had to wait for the power lines to be turned off before they cut off the Jeep’s driver’s door and helped him free.

Blacksmith was taken to hospital. He spent four days being treated for a fractured vertebra, scrapes and bruises. While the pain persists, Blacksmith says he knows the outcome could have been different.

Wild weather isn’t uncommon in southwestern Manitoba and many farmers have tales of bins being thrown and barns toppled. The deadly tornado was not the first Blacksmith had encountered — or even the most recent.

But a death, let alone two, is rare. The last was in 2018 when a 77-year-old man was killed in a tornado in Alonsa, west of Lake Manitoba.

Less than a week after surviving the tornado, Blacksmith saw the telltale dark sky forming while he was driving with a family member near the community of Alexander, 50 kilometres east of Virden. Blacksmith says he was much further away when the twister touched down.

Blacksmith says there’s also the time seven years ago when a tornado tore off part of his roof. The twister that tore through Sioux Valley First Nation in 2013 also ripped a home from its foundation and sent two people to hospital.

“I’m just lucky and happy that I’m alive.”

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

News and WeatherTornado

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Kitimat RCMP are requesting assistance locating 24-year-old Teah Wilken, who was last seen getting on a bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23). Kitimat RCMP Facebook photo.
Kitimat RCMP requesting assistance locating missing woman

Wilken last seen getting on bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23)

Randy Bell. File photo.
Former Smithers council candidate arrested for refusing to wear mask

Randy Bell handcuffed and given a warning at Bulkley Valley Credit Union

Salvation Army Christmas kettle campaign. File photo.
Kettle campaign delayed, kicks off Nov. 27

Salvation Army’s annual fundraiser to look different this year, thanks to COVID, tap option available

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

Most Read