ALBERTA

Storm warnings before winds toppled tents, injured children at Edmonton camp

07/03/2013 02:34 EDT | Updated 09/02/2013 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - Environment Canada had issued warnings of possible severe thunderstorms for most of the day and well before high winds blew down teepees and injured children at a camp for disadvantaged youth.

More than 20 children and counsellors were taken to hospital Tuesday night from the camp on the outskirts of Edmonton. Initial reports said one person was in critical condition and two in serious condition. Most suffered only minor cuts or bruises.

Counsellors first noticed the dark storm clouds on the western horizon around 9 p.m. and started moving children from the teepees into two buildings, William Doherty, CEO of Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch, said Wednesday.

The storm hit quickly, knocking down 18 of 30 teepees, some of them with children still inside.

"The winds started to pick up and the rain started to fall and the skies got black and we just moved people as quickly as possible," Doherty said.

"We were dealing with 178 kids, 43 staff and nine managers at the time. To haul in 178 kids into two separate buildings does take a few minutes."

Doherty said the privately owned charity summer camp is not wired for Internet weather updates.

Environment Canada issued a weather forecast for the city at 5 a.m. Tuesday that included a warning of potential severe thunderstorms in the evening with possible wind gusts of up to 100 km/h.

The weather service upgraded the forecast at 10:43 a.m. with a severe thunderstorm watch for the region. That forecast was upgraded to include a severe thunderstorm warning at 8:17 p.m. — almost an hour before the storm roared through the camp.

Such warnings call on people to take cover if threatening weather approaches and advise that strong wind gusts can damage property, cause serious injury and produce tornadoes, said Dan Kulak, an Environment Canada severe weather expert.

"There is no possible way that we could advertise 100-kilometre winds any better than we did (Tuesday)," Kulak said. "We were all over this one."

Doherty said the ranch will review its severe weather protocols.

A ranch official said the people who were initially listed in critical and serious condition actually suffered less severe injuries.

Another official for the camp said the camper who was originally classified as critical was released from hospital Wednesday and that no others remain in hospital.

The ranch, which opened in 2009, says it provides a quality, free outdoor camp experience for underprivileged, mentally, physically and emotionally challenged children in a safe family-oriented atmosphere.

The children who were camping Tuesday night were from low-income families.

Doherty said the ranch has cancelled its programming until at least next week and is busy assessing damage with insurance adjusters.

He praised his staff and first responders for how they helped the children during and after the storm.

"They did a phenomenal job out here," he said. "There could have been a lot more damage."

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