Remembering the 1983 Reeces Corners tornado

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Bill Reid remembers gathering up the people at his farm market on London Line and heading to the basement of his home.

In a few moments on May 2, 1983, an F3 tornado tore a 200 to 300 foot wide path through the Plympton Township village, seriously damaging 18 homes and businesses and injuring 13 people. Eighteen families were temporarily homeless. Fortunately, no one lost their lives.

“We were we heard we were in the market and we heard it coming and we had some people with us and we went to the house in the basement. We just got to the basement and that was it…. it just went to the north of where our house was…it went the past us and it took Kerrigan barn, flattened it. They had grain beds behind the barn and they were embedded in cement …it didn’t break the cement, it pulled the steel right out of the cement,” says Reid.

Reid recalls looking at the path of the tornado and seeing that on “the north side, everything went back to the west and on the south side, everything went east.”

The Reids were fortunate that day; they lost the roof to a barn and some fruit trees were damaged. “One of them looked like maybe a sheet of steel cut it just like a friggin big machete,” he recalls.

Bill Davidson was the Wyoming fire chief at the time. He was coming up Highway 40 when he heard the call. Fire crews made it to the scene before he did, checking homes and helping the injured.

Gary Atkinson, now the mayor of Plympton-Wyoming, happened to be at his parents home, just outside of Reeces Corners. They didn’t take shelter that day but he recalls the colour of the sky as the storm blew through.

“The sky was a weird color of grayish black, with kind of a light hue like that I’d never ever saw before.”

At his parents home, “there was no sound at all. There was no wind. There was just absolute dead silence.

Once the storm passed, Atkinson returned to his home in Wyoming and only later heard about the tornado and the devastation it left behind.

Atkinson only went to the scene after it was clear the emergency had passed. “It looked like some pictures that you saw in a war where buildings it had been stated like they were hit with a bomb… stuff was strewn all over the yards, and the roadways.

Atkinson also heard some of the stories of the people who survived including a woman who had been next door getting her hair done while her husband was in the basement working when the tornado passed by and destroyed their house. “When she went to come home, she had no house to go back to.”
Both were safe, but homeless.

“I had a young cousin that told me that he saw birds flying backwards, which kind of was a little freaky,” the mayor recalled.

Atkinson says he also remembers the way the community pitched in to help those whose homes had been damaged.

Reid agreed saying people from across southern Ontario came for days to help pick up the pieces of buildings which had blown far and wide.
And while there was an extensive clean up, Reid says his family still finds scraps of houses in the bush, blown there, he believes by that tornado.

The 40th anniversary of the tornado that devastated Reeces Corners fall in the middle of Emergency Preparedness week.

Jay VanKlinken, Lambton’s emergency management coordinator, says since 1983, technology has evolved to the point where anyone can hear tornado warnings. Environment Canada and Sarnia Lambton Alerts now has the technology to send out tornado warnings to cellphones – like Amber Alerts.

And he says, Canadians “all love watching the sky and reading the weather. We know when the warning signs are there for a tornado – that dark, sometimes a green or yellow looking sky…extreme thunder and lightning, an erie calm or a wall of white…the rumbling like a freight train or a jet.”

VanKlinken hopes people “don’t roll the dice” or “take any chances” and head inside and to the basement.

And while for many people the tornado in Reeces Corners is still a difficult memory, he says it is a good reminder of how quickly severe weather can hit.
VanKlinken says it may even trigger people to put together an emergency kit so they can be ready for anything during tornado season.