Colangelo's farm devastated after tornado, unexpected help lifts his spirits

Landscape drastically altered by tornado.

Giovanni Colangelo was three minutes from his farm site when he saw debris fly in the air. The Italian-born farmer that many know as Johnny, says that much of what he built-up over some 40 years of work is gone.

“It’s a life changer. I’m angry,” he says after the devastating Scarth tornado charged through his yard in a north-easterly track on Friday night, August 7.

article continues below

Colangelo’s property along Hwy 83 has been the touch-down site of two tornados in six years.

“In theory, its easier to win a lottery than to have two tornados land on your approach.”

He marvelled at the destruction, noting that one of his grain bin bottoms is seven tons. It was found three quarters of a mile away.

It was 2014 when a first tornado hit, doing minor damage to trees at that time.

This year, with harvest time imminent, Colangelo who spends part of his year in Canada and part in Italy, had just returned to Canada the day before the storm hit.

Although he’s shaken by the loss of harvesting equipment, the ruination of his yard, the loss of grain bins and every massive spruce windbreak tree … in the next breath he is thankful to have escaped with his life from the farm yard he had just left.

Debris, from what is, at present, considered an EF2 tornado with 190-kilometre winds, was scattered to the east for two kilometres into Colangelo’s field. This was the scene of tragedy for the two young people from Melita and that is also heavy on his heart.

Piles of scrap have been gathered from the fields. The storm snapped hydro poles. Virden customers lost hydro for about an hour. Hydro crews from as far away as Morden came to help restore power. Colangelo and some rural neighbours were without power until mid-day Saturday.

Colangelo had planned to replace the original brick home. He had material to build a temporary cabin on the property with the idea he would build a new home there, some day. Now, the 60-year-old farmer fears that even part of the cabin construction material has been lost. He was not insured against this natural disaster.

HELP ON SATURDAY

Unexpected help showed up on Saturday. Colangelo was deeply moved when, on the morning after what he called “the worst night of my life,” he found a crew of men from Cromer, members of the Church of God in Christ. Armed with chain saws and heavy equipment, they attacked the mess.

“Those guys were wonderful, from the Cromer area.” Taking on disaster relief projects is part of the humanitarian work the church engages. But it’s not always so close to home, just about a dozen miles from Cromer.

That morning church member Ralph Froese, an excavating contractor, said he was surprised at the response after the call went out church members. “Within the hour we probably had 12 to 15 guys who said they could come.” At noon, women from the church brought in pizza.

Colangelo found himself a little impatient with the traffic of onlookers, media and even scientists who descended upon his farm site. However, he was deeply moved by a woman who left a modest donation of money. The gesture of kindness was encouraging.

As the canola fields ripen, Colangelo has to replace his swather, grain augers and find grain storage since many bins were destroyed.

For those wanting to help Johnny Colangelo, a Go Fund Me page and an account at local banking institutions has been opened.

© Virden Empire-Advance