One eyewitness said it looked and felt like a missile had struck the century-old Whalen Building Wednesday afternoon in Thunder Bay’s north core.
In fact it was a lightning bolt that hit the terra cotta-faced structure, ripping apart a turret sitting atop the building and scattering debris into the streets – and through car windshields – on St. Paul Street below.
No one was hurt in the afternoon incident, which ironically occurred as power outages dotted the area around the seven-storey Whalen Building, home to both Thunder Bay Hydro and the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Corporation.
Lisa Zozula, whose brand new car was struck by the falling masonry, was inside the building when the storm struck.
“I was paying bills inside and I heard the noise and I thought for sure it had hit the building. It felt like it hit the building. And sure enough, it hit the building,” she said.
“My friend was sitting on the driver’s side (of my car) waiting for me to come out of the building. The windshield was hit. I guess he is shook up so much. It’s a good thing he wasn’t sitting on that side (of the car).”
It wasn’t Zozula’s first encounter with lightning. As a child she and her grandfather were hit in their native Finland. She survived with burn marks that remain to this day. He did not, succumbing to injuries suffered in the strike.
“It was so strong and very sharp,” she said. “It sounded like a very sharp hit and I knew it wasn’t very far away.”
Police and fire officials cordoned off St. Paul Street adjacent to the Whalen Building, which is in the midst of a multi-million exterior facelift.
“We were lucky enough that nobody was on the sidewalk at the time, so there were no injuries. Right now we’re just assessing the damage and how to control the rest of the possible debris that might fall,” said district chief Joe Grzelewski of the Thunder Bay Fire Service.
“City facilities are in the process of assessing the damage.”
Rod Habere’s car was parked across the street from the street in the parking lot of the Canadian Mental Health Association building.
He was in the midst of a photo shoot when the incident occurred.
“All of a sudden the whole building shook and went kaboom. The building kind of moved and we all came outside. When we came out we looked and everything was all over the place. There were big chunks by my car and I looked at the windshield and it was just caved right in,” Habere said.
“I was freaked out. I just got a new windshield and now I’ve got another one. Then we saw more damage and I thought oh my goodness, that’s nasty.”
Brant Warwick was one of a couple of dozen curious onlookers who gathered after the fact to check out what had happened. He managed to snatch up a sizable chunk of the debris as a souvenir, stone he believes was imported from Italy.
“It’s just incredible that nobody was walking below and nobody got hurt. A lot of vehicles were damaged in a big way, so it is something. It definitely made me jump out of my seat, the lightning itself.”
For more on the history of the building, built in 1913, click here.
Follow Leith Dunick on Twitter: @LeithDunick