GODERICH, Ont. — The family of a salt mine worker fatally crushed by debris in a violent tornado that ripped through a southwestern Ontario town on the weekend grappled Tuesday with the mystery surrounding his death.
Two days after police broke the news that her 61-year-old husband had died, Brenda Turcotte Laberge said she still doesn’t know why he was the only one killed in the storm that battered Goderich with 280 km/h winds.
Normand Laberge died on the job at the Sifto salt mine, the largest rock salt mine in the world and one of the town’s main employers. Other employees who were working at the time survived.
So far, the family hasn’t received “proper answers” from the company or town officials, Turcotte Laberge said in an interview from her home in Lucknow, Ont. The couple had been together 14 years and married for two.
“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “I’m just trying to get through this the best I can.”
At least 37 people were injured as the deadly tornado carved a path through the beach and port town of 8,000 on Sunday afternoon, ripping the roofs off historic buildings, reducing trees to matchsticks and tossing cars around like toys.
Environment Canada has designated the storm an F3-level tornado, the most powerful the agency has seen in Ontario since 1996.
The province has pledged $5 million to help the town, which remains under a state of emergency.
Ontario provincial police called off their search and rescue efforts Tuesday, saying all residents and visitors were accounted for.
Turcotte Laberge said her husband was operating the boom, an extendable arm that loads freight onto ships, when the twister hit and pinned him under the rubble. Emergency crews managed to dig out his body Monday night, she said.
He worked at the mine for more than 30 years and always kept a close watch on the weather during his shift, she said.
He had reported seeing a bad storm on the horizon, but the tornado “just shot right out before anyone could do anything,” she said. “Within seconds, it was over.”
A spokeswoman for Sifto’s parent company Compass Minerals said the mine was being evacuated but Laberge wasn’t able to escape.
The majority of the mine’s employees work underground but Laberge was up high because he oversees the loading of ships, Kelly Barton said.
His position may have made him more vulnerable to the storm, she said.
Fierce winds tore apart the company’s evaporation plant in downtown Goderich, knocking entire walls to the ground and crumpling chain-link fences like tissue paper.
Both the mine and the plant have been closed off since the tornado and it’s unclear when employees will return to work.
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour is looking into what caused Laberge’s death and what procedures were taken to prevent it.
, said spokesman Matt Blajer. The ministry investigates all workplace deaths.