Fundraisers started after tornado rips through Ontario city

Yulia Berkovich was sitting on her front porch with two of her own children and three of the children she cares for in her home daycare yesterday, watching the sky grow darker when she realized she needed to herd everyone down into the basement.

Minutes later, a tornado ripped through her Barrie, Ont., neighbourhood. Environment Canada has confirmed that a tornado with an EF-2 rating and wind speeds of up to 210 km/h touched down in Barrie on July 15.

After the tornado passed, Yulia emerged to a chaotic scene.

“I started to get up and I realized the stairs in my basement were all covered with the filling (insulation) from the roof. I couldn’t open the door for a while because my front bench, which we were sitting on for a while, just flew from my door and blocked my way to get out of the basement,” she told The CJN in an interview Friday morning.

When she shouldered the wicker bench out of the way and got the children out of the basement, Berkovich saw the roof and the porch of her home had been torn away by the high winds. Her car was upside down in the driveway.

She and the children were not harmed and almost immediately, friends and neighbours came to help. She was unable to initially reach her husband who works nearby, but he found her shortly afterwards.

They spent last night in a friend’s house. Her five-year-old daughter was “very emotional” last night worrying the tornado would return, Yulia said.

The house is uninhabitable, not even safe for the family to go in and retrieve their belongings, she said. She has started a GoFundMe campaign, while she waits to hear what exactly insurance will cover. While friends have offered her a place to live, it’s not easy moving a family with three small children, a large German Shepherd and other pets, she said.

“I don’t know how long we are going to be out of the house. It has to be built from scratch,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to keep working. I believe we still have to pay the mortgage and for rent.”

She has been overwhelmed with her friends’ and neighbours’ generosity, who have been dropping off food, clothes and toys.

“I don’t even know what I need:  diapers, clothes, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Just basic stuff you don’t even think about,” she said.

Rabbi Mendel Nakkar, said his synagogue, Chabad Jewish Centre of Barrie,  is about two km from the path of the tornado and was untouched. A day camp was being held at the shul when the tornado hit.

“We’ve called everybody we have living in that area and approximately 15 Jewish families who are affected,” Rabbi Nakkar said. He has been able to reach the Berkovich family as well, he said in an interview with The CJN.

About 2,000 Jews live in the rapidly growing city, about 100 km north of Toronto.

One person was sent to hospital but was released the day after. “They‘re obviously very distraught,” he said. Eight people have been reported injured by the tornado.

Rabbi Nakkar said volunteers from the synagogue were in the affected neighbourhood Thursday night, shortly after the tornado hit, distributing food and other essential supplies.

Rabbi Nakkar said some families have lost everything, while others have been told by police they can’t re-enter their homes because they are not safe.

The tornado hit just as the city was preparing to re-open after a long COVID-mandated shutdown. One person that Rabbi Nakkar was speaking with reminded him that in addition to everything else, they also needed a box of masks.

Chabad has started a Facebook fund with proceeds going for clothing, food and repairs that won’t be covered by insurance.

People wishing to donate to Chabad, can visit JewishBarrie.ca/donate and write Tornado Relief Fund in the notes or at this page on Facebook.

The Berkovich Family GoFundMe can be found at this link.  

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