TORONTO, AUG. 1 -- Officials in Edmonton reported today that at least 27 persons had been killed and 250 others injured when a tornado sliced a path of destruction yesterday in Edmonton, the provincial capital on the prairie in northern Alberta.
It was Canada's deadliest tornado in 75 years.
There was some confusion about the death toll because of double counting. The city's emergency planning officer, Bruce Wilson, said 27 persons were confirmed dead, but police spokesman Joy-Lynn Dorash put the count at 35.
Most of the dead were in a trailer park, apparently the hardest-hit area in the city of 530,000. Witnesses told the Canadian Press that they saw cars, trucks, houses and trees flying through the air.
"My house was sitting up against a neighbor's house in 50 million pieces," Karen Laursen tearfully told reporters. She said she saw bodies lying in the street when she rushed back to the trailer park after whirling dark tornado funnels had touched down repeatedly in the city.
After the whirlwind, there were scattered fires in devastated areas as gas flowed from ruptured mains and burst into flames. A state of emergency was declared in the city as police using dog teams continued to search collapsed houses and overturned cars for survivors. Police Chief Leroy Chahley told reporters in Edmonton that extra patrols had been sent to areas struck after reports of looting.
A Canadian Broadcasting Corp. television crew captured the approach of a black funnel as it approached the city of 530,000 around 3 p.m. yesterday.
"It seemed to bounce down and touch the ground and come up again," said CBC weather reporter Lee McKenzie, who watched the disaster from a city rooftop.
Gordon Lechelt was in a hardware store as the tornado neared. "We went outside to watch it and it got bigger and we all ran back into the shop," he told reporters. "Suddenly it was as if we were in the middle of hell. The cement walls were sucked out in seconds and rubble covered all 20 of us." Lechelt said he was buried in bricks and beams; some others in the building were killed.
The cars of commuters traveling on the Sherwood Park Freeway were lifted from the highway and smashed back to the ground. Shards of houses flew across the freeway.
Spared were downtown areas and West Edmonton Mall, one of the world's largest shopping centers.