Crews are clearing more than 1,000 fallen trees and fixing downed power lines after a fierce wind storm blasted the popular recreational area of Nordegg on Sunday.
The small community 200 km west of Red Deer suffered severe damage after winds rocked the region sometime after 10:30 p.m.
Both the old town site and a new subdivision north of Hwy 11 where many new cabins have been built in forested areas were hit.
Joe Baker, West Country manager for Clearwater County, said the brief wind storm caused extensive damage.
“As far as damage, it is one of the worst I have seen,” said Baker, who toured the devastation Monday. “Many people I have spoken to say it was the worst weather event they have been a part of.”
Minor injuries were reported at the Upper Shunda Creek Campground located between Hwy 11 and the Nordegg north subdivision.
Linda Latter, who operates the campground with her husband Gord, said their son-in-law has deep bruises from a tree landing on the tent where he, his pregnant wife and two children, ages 6 and 3, were huddled inside.
A woman also sheltering in her tent from hail suffered a concussion when a tree fell on her.
“It could have been so much worse,” she said, adding the tremendous wind came “straight from the north, which is really unheard around here.”
Clayton Gross has lived in the area since his birth 69 years ago.
“It was very calm and then it just hit with a bang,” said Gross, who mans the tourist booth.
“The wind was so bad you couldn’t hear your voice.
“With the wind blowing, you couldn’t hear the lightning and it was continuous. It was the worst storm ever I have ever seen.”
He estimates the storm, which included a downpour of rain but little hail, was more than three kilometres wide.
Gross was near his horses when the storm struck.
“It didn’t bother them — they just turn their butts to the wind and put their heads down,” he said. “There were trees here 20 to 30 inches (in diameter) and they just snapped like pencils.”
Thousands of poplar, pine and spruce were felled or snapped by the heavy winds. Cleanup is expected to take a number of days.
“Numerous (power) poles were broken and there were trees across lines,” Baker said.
“Fortunately, in the (new) north subdivision, we put all underground power in. So we aren’t dealing with all the power being out.”
Merlin MacNaughton, stakeholder relations manager for electricity provider FortisAlberta, estimated the power outage affected about 200 customers from the town and Bighorn reserve.
Those west of Nordegg at Goldeye Centre, Frontier Lodge and Fish Lake Campground were the last ones to get power restored, expected to happen late Wednesday afternoon.
Crews were brought in from Red Deer, Rimbey, Rocky Mountain House and Sherwood Park.
“It’s a lot of work. We had to replace 13 power poles within a 20-km cross-country section, which means they were going through trees,” MacNaughton said.
He urged anyone who sees downed power lines to stay away and call 310-WIRE (9473).
“Definitely, there were buildings (in the new subdivision) that have been hit with trees,” Baker said.
A county employee discovered a propane leak Sunday night on the town’s south end after a tree toppled over onto three connected tanks. Nordegg volunteer fire department responded.
About 70 residents were relocated to the Centre for Outdoor Education lodge or the Goldeye Centre education and retreat facility.
“The evacuation was voluntary and a precautionary measure,” said Community and Protective Services manager Mike Haugen. “County crews responded effectively to ensure the ongoing safety of our residents and visitors.”
Residents returned home Monday to begin cleaning up. County crews removed trees off roads so they could quickly re-open and spent Wednesday clearing road rights of way.
Smoke mixed with heavy cloud from a burn site uphill of the north subdivision where locals and county crews took timber for disposal.
The Latters, aided by family members, cleared two of the three campground loops so they could accommodate campers right away. The third loop hard hit by the wind is unlikely to re-open this summer.
“Everything was looking so good and it had been such a nice night,” said Latter.