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People hurt, homes damaged as tornado hits Barrie, Ont.

A tornado tore through Barrie, Ont., Thursday afternoon, leaving several people hurt and homes damaged in the city, which is about 115 kilometres north of Toronto.

A tornado caused "catastrophic" damage when it tore through Barrie, Ont., Thursday afternoon, police said, leaving several people injured and homes with serious damage. 

Police in Barrie, which is about 115 km north of Toronto, said they were responding to "multiple reports of damage" in the southeast part of the city, and paramedics were treating people who had been hurt after the tornado touched down — around 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

"The damage is catastrophic, it is significant, it is major," Barrie police spokesperson Peter Leon said, urging people to stay away from the area.

Environment Canada had issued tornado warnings across the region throughout the afternoon, but downgraded those warnings across Ontario in the hours after the storm tore through Barrie. Much of the region is expected to experience severe thunderstorms, the agency said.

Some areas continued to experience power outages later Thursday afternoon.

Flipped vehicles, destroyed fences

Residents in Barrie posted photos and videos of damage from the storm. Many homes had damage to roofs, backyards and fences. 

Those images on social media along with Environment Canada's own data helped confirm the storm was a tornado, said the agency's warning preparedness meteorologist Geoff Coulson. He said the tornado touched down around 2:30 p.m., just minutes after Environment Canada upgraded its tornado watch to warning.

"We don't have a sense of the damage path, the length or width of the path" that the tornado took when it touched down in Barrie, he said, but the agency is sending a team to investigate, as is the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University.

Neighbourhoods near Mapleview Drive East and Prince William Way in the southeast part of the city took the brunt of the damage. After the storm, some residents drove around assessing damage, which included flipped vehicles, and destroyed fences.

"There is extensive damage from the tornado touchdown in the area of Prince William Way and Mapleview in SE Barrie," Mayor Jeff Lehman said in a tweet. "Please avoid the area as emergency crew are focused on making sure everyone is safe."

Several homes in Barrie, Ont., were damaged following a heavy thunderstorm and tornado on Thursday afternoon. (Brandon Vieira/Twitter)

Barrie Police, with assistance from OPP and fire services, said they were going door-to-door to check on residents in the Mapleview area.

"My thoughts are with everyone in Barrie and Innisfil affected by the severe weather today," Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet. "A big thank you to our first responders that are currently on the ground helping the situation. Please stay safe everyone!"

The tornado has impacted GO Transit. All trains on the Barrie Line are ending at Bradford GO Station as crews inspect tracks north of Bradford.

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Environment Canada had first issued a severe thunderstorm watch just before noon for Barrie, Midland, and Orillia. That was upgraded to a tornado warning by early afternoon which ended just before 3 p.m. ET.

By 3 p.m., Environment Canada issued another tornado warning for Newmarket, Georgina, Uxbridge and surrounding areas, but had ended it by 3:30 p.m. A tornado warning was also in effect for the Peterborough-Kawartha Lakes area, and has ended in other regions.

The storm also touched down in Keswick, Ont., but whether that was also a tornado remains to be determined, Coulson said.

"It looks like, as it's moving further east, it will start to weaken somewhat, but it is still going to be a very dangerous storm for the next little while," he said.

"It is also important to remind folks that it does continue to be an ongoing situation, (thunderstorm) watches continue to be in effect for much of southern and eastern Ontario, and there is still a potential for damaging storms to occur through the late afternoon and evening hours in parts of the province."

Various severe thunderstorm warnings and watches continued to be issued as the storm moved east across the province. All of southern Ontario remained in a severe thunderstorm watch as of 4:30 p.m. 

Much of southern Ontario beyond Toronto remained under a severe thunderstorm watch according to Environment Canada later that afternoon. 

Many homes had damage to roofs, backyards and fences after Thursday's storm tore through the region. (Brandon Vieira/Twitter)

Hazards include damaging wind gusts of 90 to 110 km/h, nickel-sized or golf ball-sized hails, and heavy downpours.

Environment Canada said it was continuing to monitor for possible tornadoes.

Environment Canada had first issued a severe thunderstorm watch just before noon for Barrie, Midland, and Orillia. That was upgraded to a tornado warning by early afternoon. This photo shows damage to homes and trees in one Barrie neighbourhood. (Brandon Vieira/Twitter)
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