An inquest into the death of Normand Laberge, who was killed when an F3 tornado hit Goderich, Ont. in 2011 began with a focus on weather warnings.

Laberge, 61, was killed while working at the Sifto Canada salt mine when the tornado devastated the area on Aug. 21, 2011. He was operating a boat boom nearly 20 metres in the air when the storm hit.

At 3:52 p.m. he told a co-worker he was getting down because bad weather was coming in, but 30 seconds later he was dead, found at the bottom of a heap of twisted metal.

On Monday a pathologist told the jury he died instantly, his spine, jaw and larynx fractured.

His daughter Jocelyne Laberge says “It’s my dad that they’re talking about, so it’s hard to hear…There’s a practical side that knows it came fast, butthen there’s a part that you question why hewas up there still and it’s hard to keep your feelings out of it.”

The inquest heard residents had less than five minutes warning before the tornado ripped through the town, injuring nearly 100 people.

In fact the warnings issued by Environment Canada came quickly that day:

  • 2 p.m. severe thunderstorm warning
  • 3:38 p.m. marine tornado warning
  • 3:48 p.m. tornado warning

Geoff Coulson, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, says the storm’s strength was hard to predict.

“I’ve been with Environment Canada for a little over 29 years, never seen a tornado of that intensity come off a large body of water like that. The fact that it intensified over the lake is something very rare since many storms weaken as they go across Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.”

Now, improving to Ontario’s severe weather warning system is one recommendation expected to come from the inquest.

Environment Canada says they are already working on direct email and text technology to better inform residents of severe weather.

At Sifto Salt, a new boat boom is in place and the company is also promising to improve their on-site weather warning system.

Peggy Landon with Compass Minerals and Sifto says “We are creating state of the art warning technology that will be implemented with our new ship loader andwe have weather radioslocated throughout our operation, several redundant systems so we can be notified well in advance."

An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act and is expected to make recommendations to help prevent similar deaths.

The inquest, which is taking place at the Goderich Courthouse, is expected to last five days and hear from about 15 witnesses.

Tornado damage brings new inspector

The tornado caused major damage to homes and businesses in Goderich and surrounding areas.

Over the weekend municipal officials announced Goderich will be hiring a dedicated building inspector to look at buildings that may have been damaged by the tornado.

Previously, one inspector covered all of Huron County, but officials say there is now enough demand for the town to have its own.

With files from The Canadian Press