CARSTAIRS - The heroic first responders, volunteers and others who responded to the Canada Day tornado north of Carstairs in the hours, days and weeks following the storm deserve the thanks and commendation of the community and province, says Premier Danielle Smith.
Speaking at the Mountain View tornado volunteer appreciation barbecue at the Carstairs Curling Club on Sept. 15, the premier said the public response was remarkable in many ways.
“Thank you to all of you for showing what the true Alberta way and true Alberta spirit is,” said Smith. “It seems to me that when a community and neighbours get together to help each other, that’s really the best form of healing.
“What an amazing community gathering that happened out of it, with hundreds and hundreds of people coming out for three weeks, doing whatever they can, grabbing a garbage bag and shoving whatever debris you could possibly find into it, making food for people so they could continue to sustain themselves and help.
“That is really what Alberta is all about and what a great way for a community to come together.”
Hundreds of people, including firefighters, EMS personnel, elected officials and staff, police, and many, many community volunteers attended Friday's event.
Homeowners and other victims of the tornado were also in attendance.
The July 1 tornado destroyed numerous homes and farm properties, killed livestock, and heavily damaged outbuildings, vehicles and other infrastructure. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.
Nathan Cooper, Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA, helped organize the Sept. 15 event. He called the overall response to the tornado disaster a shinning example of community spirit.
“If you helped for day or if you helped one time, on behalf of myself and our community, thank you for pitching in to help your friends and neighbours,” said Cooper, whose riding includes the tornado damaged area.
“Thank you for helping everyone have their hope in humanity restored, to know that good things still happen, that good things can come out of sadness and tragedy.
“When crisis hits Alberta, Albertans reveal who they are exactly. It fills my heart so deeply to see people come together and rally around a common cause.”
Diane Kellsey, who has five grandchildren, was trapped in her basement when the storm destroyed her house and farm along Highway 2A.
She recalled a harrowing experience not soon to be forgotten.
“I was on the phone with my son, he lives across the road, and I said, ‘Honey, these clouds look really bad. You go to your basement and he said I should go to my basement too. I picked up my dog and went down to the basement,” she told the Albertan.
“I thought it was just a really strong wind and maybe it was hail, so I decided to go into the very deep basement and the door wouldn’t shut. So I picked up a chair and I went into the corner and sat on the chair and then the door shut on its own. I physically felt Jesus holding me and protecting me from all the stuff that was flying around. I wasn’t afraid.
“The next thing I know was I heard was my son calling, ‘Mom, mom where are you? It’s going to OK mom, I’m coming for you’. I heard him yelling at the firemen, ‘Come help me, my mom is down here.’ I could see light coming through a small hole in the wall and I knew they were coming for me.”
She said she could hear rescuers pulling debris away from the collapsed building above her.
“Then my son reached down and pulled me out,” she said. “And then I looked around and realized it was more than just a hailstorm.”
She thanked the volunteers who helped with the cleanup following the storm.
Betty Kellsey, Diane’s mother-in-law, was in a nearby house and was also forced to take cover.
She said she looked out a window and saw the tornado approaching.
“It looked like two great big black balloon tires with a tornado coming out of the middle of it. The two tires were going around and around,” she said.
“I didn’t have time to get to the basement so I went to the wall and lay down right along the bottom of it. It was just me and the dog.”
She also thanked the volunteers who helped out following the storm.
Jordan Schaffer, Carstairs Fire Department chief, was involved in rescuing Diane Kellsey, receiving the only reported injury in the entire storm event: a cut to one of his fingers.
He commended the many local and district fire department members who responded to the emergency.
“I could not have been prouder,” said Schaffer. “They did such a great job. We had Olds, Didsbury and our department and we worked so well together. We had multiple stacked calls going on at once.”
After delivering her remarks, Premier Smith met with dozens of volunteers, family members and others, speaking with them about their experiences.
Among those who spoke with Smith were members of the Mountain View Benefit Concert Committee, who spearheaded a day-long event in Carstairs on July 29 that attracted more than than 3,000 people and raised more than $100,000 for victims.
“She said thank-you,” committee member and coordinator Deb Rice-Salomons said after speaking with the premier.