Tyson Peers built his “Viking House” in the woods near his home in Hawkesbury, Ontario, to withstand almost anything, but he didn’t know how soon it would be put to the ultimate test.
On the afternoon of May 21, Peers, 21, an outdoor enthusiast who posts “bushcraft” videos of his wilderness exploits on YouTube, was working on the structure with his younger brother Cam Deslauriers, 12, and Cam’s friend Miguel Larocque, 11.
The boys, who had not seen the cabin until that day, were helping Peers collect rocks to build a chimney when he received a severe thunderstorm alert on his phone. As the skies darkened and panic began to set in, Peers recorded heartbreaking video of what happened next.
“I think it’s a tornado,” Peers tells the boys in French. One of the boys says he’s leaving. “We can’t, it’s too late!” Peers shouts, ordering the boys to enter the unfinished shelter.
The peers continue to record as the trees crumble outside the hut. “Tornado! Stay low! Stay low! he shouts as the boys scream in terror.
“Please God, please, please!” they shout in a mix of French and English as more trees fall. “Stay stay stay!” Peers continues to command the boys.
“The hut saved us”
After about two terrifying minutes, the storm passes and Peers eventually emerges to watch the destruction. Trees had fallen everywhere, including two that had fallen directly on the shelter.
Leaving their bikes behind, Peers and the boys spend the next 45 minutes climbing over fallen trees to their house, where France Paquette waits in the driveway for her sons. With cell service cut off by the storm, Peers hadn’t been able to call to let her know they were okay.
“The cabin saved us,” Peers tells Paquette in French as she sobbed in relief.
The right decision
“We wanted to go and run, but it was too late. It was right above us,” Peers later told Radio-Canada’s Denis Babin.
“That was the decision I made, and it turned out to be the best decision because we would have died.”
As they cowered in the shelter, Peers clung to the boys until the storm finally passed.
I don’t believe in God, but at that time, I believed.– Tyson peers
“We were praying for God and we were scared and we started to cry a little bit,” Larocque said. “It was a very good decision to stay at the shelter.”
Peers said he was scared too.
“It was panic,” he said. “I don’t believe in God, but at that time I did. We were very lucky.”
Paquette said that as terrified as she was for her sons’ safety, she was “200%” confident that Peers would make the right decisions.
“It’s a horrible feeling, but I knew in my heart that my eldest would have taken care of his younger brother and friend with his experience in the woods and his quick thinking,” she said.
“I dropped everything, as you can see in the video. I was just happy that they came home safe and sound.”
Peers’ hut is made of branches and sticks he cut from fallen trees. It has an earthen roof, hollow floor and is open to the elements at either end.
Given how well the simple wooden structure withstood everything nature threw at it that day, Paquette said she encouraged her son to turn his passion for building into a career.
“Go to civil engineering, it’s time!” she says. “You have your proof right there.”
The storm was deadly
The powerful derecho storm that swept across Ontario and Quebec caused catastrophic damage, knocking down thousands of trees and knocking out power to a record number of customers, some of whom are still without power.
The storm also killed at least 10 people, mostly from falling trees and branches.
Researchers from Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project say an intense gust with winds peaking at 190 km/h hit south Ottawa on Saturday, not a tornado. They have yet to determine if a tornado hit east of the capital, including Hawkesbury, but Peers said he was certain that was what it was.
“It wasn’t a thunderstorm. It was a fucking tornado,” he said.