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Softball-sized hail, strong wind gusts reported in Manitoba storm

A close-knit community is picking up the pieces a day after a severe thunderstorm battered parts of southwestern Manitoba with softball-sized hail, leaving a trail of destruction and debris in its wake.

The storm that hit Oak River and Rivers, communities located northwest of Brandon, was unlike any storm resident Debbie Neely has ever seen before.

"It was pretty scary," she said. "The wind was crazy. The trees were bending over. There are no leaves left on the trees, and hail hitting the house – you just knew that it wasn't going to be good when you went and looked after."

The storm flattened farmers' fields, felled trees, smashed windows and damaged homes as hail pummelled the community. Pictures from the hard-hit areas show homes with siding that's been shredded by the downfall.

The aftermath of a severe thunderstorm that battered the community of Oak River, Man., with large hail on June 7, 2023. (Source: Jamie Dowsett/ CTV News Winnipeg)

Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said there were reports of hail the size of golf balls and ping pong balls near Rivers, and softball-sized hail near Oak River.

"Softball-sized hail, that's huge. That's very, very big for Manitoba," Hasell said. "Softball-sized hail can definitely cause a lot of damage.

A photo of the hail that fell in Rivers, Man., during a severe thunderstorm on June 7, 2023. Environmental and Climate Change Canada says in some areas the hail was the size of softballs. (Submitted: Dennis Zemliak)

Hasell said the storm also brought a peak wind gust of 102 km/h near Rivers. Despite the heavy winds, which did briefly prompt a tornado warning in the area, Hasell said ECCC has yet to confirm if there was actually a tornado.

It is a close call for the community.

"I think if a funnel cloud or tornado would have really hit, it would've been devastating to this community," said Bob Christie, the Reeve for the Rural Municipality of Oakview.

The aftermath of a severe thunderstorm that battered the community of Oak River, Man., with large hail on June 7, 2023. (Source: Jamie Dowsett/ CTV News Winnipeg)

Even with no confirmed tornado, the storm did plenty of damage for farmers like Eric McLean who are now back to square one. McLean said the storm damaged 1,500 to 2,500 acres of wheat seed, canola and soybeans.

"It's going to delay maturity if it does come back, if at all," he said, adding this will stretch the harvest window.

He believes the storm is one of the worst in Oak River's history.

"Eventually your number gets pulled and sometimes it happens," he said. "It is what it is."

Despite the widespread damage from Wednesday's storm, no injuries have been reported. McLean said the community is already coming together and helping where it's needed.

"Everybody survived and that's the best part. Property and things can be replaced and repaired. People can't," he said.

Hasell said it is not unusual to see these types of storms hit Manitoba this time of year, but said if the current trends continue, it will be a busy summer.

"This season, we've been dealing with thunderstorms that are causing issues," she said. "So it would be important for people to pay attention to the weather, current conditions, the forecast, the alerts, and to act appropriately. Most of the time, this is just taking shelter."

She said people with information about the storm can send info to Environment and Climate Change Canada by email or by using the hashtag on Twitter #mbstorm.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Public Insurance told CTV News the number of claims related to the storm is not readily available. However, those who have had their vehicle damaged in the hail storm can make a claim with MPIs contact centre.

-with files from CTV's Daniel Halmarson Top Stories

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