Storm sweeps path of destruction through Ponoka area

The storm that swept through the Ponoka area Tuesday, July 21 could be one to be talked about for many years to come.

The storm that swept through the Ponoka area Tuesday

The storm that swept through the Ponoka area Tuesday

The storm that swept through the Ponoka area Tuesday, July 21 could be one to be talked about for many years to come.

County residents north of Ponoka could do nothing but helplessly watch as dark clouds rolled over the land foreshadowing a serious storm event. Hail and strong wind worked an easterly way across the land northwest, north and northeast of Ponoka.

Some county residents state the hail continued to fall for what seemed close to an hour and left fields flattened. In some spots the hail was three miles wide and ice remained for days after the storm.

Beacon Road had inches of hail causing vehicles to struggle to navigate the road and plow trucks were called into operation to clear roads near Crestomere.

Storm affects crops

Justin Babcock, manager of agriculture services for Ponoka County, said the destruction of crops was so severe farmers may have to downsize their herd as they won’t have enough feed for the animals.

Crops were already struggling with a more than normal dry season but the hail destroyed what was left of those crops. Barley, wheat, canola, corn and other crops were affected.

“I just couldn’t believe how much (hail) came down,” said Babcock.

It came and it just didn’t seem to stop. “It’s definitely going to be a lot harder on producers this year,” he added.

There may be some relief for producers through a tax relief recently announced by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on Thursday, July 23.

The tax relief is for western livestock producers in prescribed drought regions who are facing shortages. To find out if eligible producers can contact AgriInsurance, AgriInvest and AgriStability.

AFSC kept busy after the storm

Insurance claims of hail damage have kept staff at the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) busy.

Crop assessors will be assessing much of the farms that were affected, explained Daniel Graham, acting manager for insurance.

“Because of the magnitude of the storm it’s going to take some time to assess the damage,” said Graham.

The storm started in Rocky Mountain House and went all the way to Lloydminster although farms in Ponoka County appeared to be hit the most. He said 2008 and 2012 reached record numbers of insurance claims of hail but 2013 and 2014 were also above average.

There were three major tracks of the storm, her said: Ponoka and Maskwacis, Lacombe and surrounding area and Red Deer to Stettler.

“It’s my understanding that Alberta, particularly southern and central Alberta, we’re considered one of the higher risks for hail in North America,” said Graham.

Farmers had five days to put a claim into AFSC to give assessors time to investigate. Graham said there are steps in place to allow a farmer to use the affected field for pasture or feed. He said a producer must contact AFSC and notify them of their wish.

Severe damage to homes

Wind and hail helped create major damage to several county and town homes, some of which left homeowners looking for a new place to stay.

Siding, windows, holiday trailers and vehicles were damaged and anything facing west appeared to receive the brunt of hail.

Kirsten Abt lives just north of Ponoka on 49 Street and the hail was so severe it tore big holes in the siding of her home. “It was pretty scary. My trailer was shaking,” said Abt.

She hid in her bathtub while the storm swept over destroying trees planted just three years ago as well causing damage to her truck.

Town residents lose services

The severity of the storm hit the Town of Ponoka as well.

Water came in such high amounts causing the downtown area to flood with several inches of water. Trees were blown over throughout town and power was out for a period of time while crews worked to return power to homes. One van had a tree fall right on top of it just south of the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre.

Donna Brinkworth, communications officer, said five crews plus a water crew were called into action to get services up and running. “The town always responds to power failures,” said Brinkworth.

She said emergency crews such as EMS, police and fire also lost power and had to rely on backups until workers could fix the problem. Employees did not return home from work until approximately 4 a.m.

“It’s important for the power to come back up as soon as possible,” said Brinkworth.

She says the town website: www.ponoka.ca also has an emergency link on the top of its page in the event of a major emergency. Residents can always access that to see if there is a major emergency.

Being prepared is something she advocates and Brinkworth suggests residents put together a 72-hour emergency preparedness package.