Destructive tornado rips Elgin; dozens of homes damaged & destroyed, 15 injured
Touching down at 4:30pm, this powerful tornado damaged 87 properties as it tore for 12km through Elgin County to the south of London. Witnesses reported that the tornado was very wide and had the appearance of a cone of swirling smoke.
The tornado developed somewhere near the intersection of Mill Road and Highway 401 in Southwold Township. It quickly grew in size and intensity as it barrelled directly toward the unsuspecting residents of Frome. The little hamlet was a close-knit farming community of 24 homes. Most were situated along Talbot Line, a route leading off to the northeast toward Talbotville from which it was just a quick jog along Sunset Drive to get to St. Thomas. Frome’s quaint one and two storey homes were typical of the area, tidy and cute, with big trees in their yards and fields of corn growing beyond their fence lines.
The massive tornado ripped directly through and devastated Frome; all of the village’s homes were extensively damaged or destroyed, some of which were levelled to their foundations. Reportedly, vehicles were sent ‘whirling through the air’ and trees were snapped, debarked and denuded. At one house, a teenage girl was having a bath when the tornado struck, tearing apart the home. The bathroom was the only room left intact as the remainder of the house was swept away, and she survived uninjured.
The totality of the destruction across the village was reminiscent of the disaster at Oxford Centre on August 7, 1979, when a monstrous F4 tornado obliterated that village after slicing through Woodstock. Indeed, the destruction to some houses in Frome may also have approached F4 intensity. Photos from the air that documented the disaster best captured the magnitude of the event; home after home was torn apart or levelled, blown to pieces and scattered in a seemingly endless field of debris. The tornado was wider than the village itself and the direct hit left total and catastrophic damage.
Although the devastation at Frome was immense, it was reported that a family who lived less than a kilometer to the west was totally unaware of the disaster until hours later. Only upon receiving a call from distant family members who saw a news report on the destruction in the village did the couple learn of their neighbors’ plight.
South of Frome, the tornado tore through the Kimble family farm on the outskirts of the village. As it bore down on their home, the family struggled with the door to the basement but it was held shut by the howling, circling wind. Fortunately the tornado didn’t take the house, though hundreds of trees were snapped, uprooted, twisted and shorn off at the tops as it raked through the family woodlot. The lot, lovingly planted by the family fifty years prior, was decimated, mowed down as if by a giant tiller.
Continuing to the southeast, the tornado struck a fruit farm north of Port Stanley that was owned by the Turville family. There, the father and son were in the barn conducting chores as the storm hit. They ducked low on the ground and were blasted by an onslaught of dirt and debris as the building was torn apart around them. The winds subsided and the two survived, however a large piece of wood shot through the air and embedded itself into the older man’s arm; he was rushed to hospital for treatment.
The Turville farm was devastated. Apple and pear orchards were torn apart, with rows of trees snapped. The few trees that did remain standing were skeletal, stripped of trees, branches and fruit. The barn and two neighboring garages were swept away. The farmhouse remained standing but was gutted; it’s windows shattered and walls pock-marked by debris.
Just east of the fruit farm, the tornado struck another rural property where a woman and her young family were visiting her parents. There, it picked up and threw two house trailers which were then torn apart and destroyed. The five family members – two children, their mother and grandparents – suffered injuries that included cuts, bruises, a fractured collarbone and broken legs.
In total, the tornado left 15 people injured and damage exceeding $20,000,000.
This was the most destructive of three tornadoes to strike Southern Ontario on August 28; the others were a damaging F2 at Komoka, and an F1 at Newtonville.