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Hailstones like grapefruits: Courtenay mayor, family pummelled on drive through Alberta

At first, the hail was pea-sized and Bob Wells took the opportunity to educate to his children on how hailstones are created. But then “all of a sudden they started getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells and his family faced the prospect of a second severe hailstorm in Saskatchewan on Thursday after their van was wrecked by hailstones the size of grapefruits in Alberta on Monday.

Wells, who was in North Battleford, Sask., on Thursday, took to social media to share weather warnings about thunderstorms bringing threats of large hail. His post included the hashtags #notagain and #letsgetoutofhere.

Hoping to avoid the storm, Wells said in an interview Thursday afternoon that the family was driving to Saskatoon to spend the night.

Wells, his mother Dolly Beck, 15-year-old twins Connor and Megan, and son Quinn, 11, had left Vancouver Island for the small community of Fisher Branch, just north of Winnipeg. Connor has organized a family reunion in Manitoba for Saturday. The trip was going well until Monday, when a severe storm sent huge hailstones crashing onto Beck’s van as they drove near Red Deer.

At first, the hail was pea-sized and Wells took the opportunity to educate to his children on how hail stones are created.

But then “all of a sudden they started getting bigger and bigger,” he said. By the time the stones reached golf-ball size, they were cracking the windshield.

“I immediately pulled over and stopped.”

The hail broke the sunroof windows and “we wrapped ourselves in blankets” for protection, Wells said.

Grapefruit-sized stones slammed into the van, smashing the windshield, damaging the dual sunroofs, denting the once-pristine vehicle, and breaking a rear passenger window, sending glass throughout the interior.

Wells and Quinn, who was also sitting in the front, held their hands against the front windshield and against the sunroofs to prevent them from collapsing. Wells said his hands were left bruised.

Megan was in the back when a huge hailstone travelling at a 45-degree angle blew out a rear window.

The blanket protected her, Wells said. “I certainly was concerned about her and just wanted to make sure everybody was staying as safe as possible.

“We’re healthy. Nobody got hurt. Some scratches and stuff.”

Anyone who had been outside in the storm would have been severely injured, he said.

Emergency personnel showed up to help. The road was lined with vehicles parked at the side.

Rather than wait several hours for a tow truck to arrive, Wells, who could see through a part of the windshield, drove to a hotel in Red Deer, where his wife, Michelle, who had remained in Courtenay, had made a reservation.

Wells figures the van will be a write-off.

Michelle reserved a vehicle for the following day in Red Deer as a substitute for the van, but when he went to collect it, Wells was told it would not be available until Friday — not giving the family enough time to make Saturday’s reunion.

A cousin who lives in Red Deer helped out by driving him to Edmonton on Tuesday to rent a sport utility vehicle. Wells drove it back to Red Deer and the family were on their way again.

The van was left at the hotel to be towed away and evaluated. Because the freak storm caused so much damage, Wells has heard it could take a long time for insurance matters to be settled.

The B.C. Automobile Association has taken on the vehicle rental cost for the SUV. Wells does not know when the van will be replaced.

For now, the family is looking forward to seeing their relatives in Manitoba, hoping to arrive today.

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