A killer tornado leaves a family grieving and hopingby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Two-year-old Nathanial Prindle was the only person killed in the Hugo tornado. His father Gerard and sister Annika remain hospitalized. His mother Christy was treated and released. Theirs is one of the many houses that were completely destroyed. All that remains of their home is a concrete driveway and basement foundation that lie underneath a pile of debris.
St. Paul, Minn. — Fenway Avenue, which fell right in the storm's path, offers a stark example of the randomness of tornadoes. The houses at one end show very little sign of even minor damage.
But less than a quarter mile away, where Fenway Avenue bends, two houses are missing. Not crumpled or mangled. They are simply missing.
The Prindle family lived in one of those houses.
"They're just really nice, and it's just horrible what happened to them," said 19-year-old Rachel Baldwin, who was next door, in that other house that's now missing.
Rachel got out of her house safely, and she said she saw Christine Prindle being pulled from the wreckage with a bloodied face, screaming for her two children.
Nathanial was found soon after.
"They found him in the pond, and he was unconscious. I guess they tried to do everything, but they couldn't help it," Baldwin said.
That's not the official word on how Nathaniel died, but you hear it from several people in the neighborhood, and much of the Prindle's home is in that pond, in fact.
The destruction suggests the tornado hit the front of the house head-on, then sprayed it across the backyard and into that pond, a good 30 feet away.
The Prindle's brother-in-law, Todd Hanson, said the family has always been very close.
"Nate was a wonderful boy with a huge smile," Hanson remembered.
Hanson spent yesterday afternoon looking through the rubble of the Prindle's home for those important sentimental items that can't be replaced.
He was joined by family friends, by people who knew the Prindles from Eagle Brook Church and by total strangers, some whose own nearby homes were okay, so they were looking to help where they could.
Dean Dehling's house stands just 20 feet from the Prindle's home, and the key word is 'stands.' There's a lot of damage to his roof and one side, but it still resembles a house.
Dehling said his kids often played with the Prindle kids. The two families were among the first on the block to build houses and move in more than seven years ago.
And while he had nothing but kind words for his neighbors, Dehling was also trying to comprehend the close call he'd just been through.
"We had 12 people in the house - 6 adults, 6 kids - when this came through. Twenty feet over this way, it could be a whole lot different, and we know that, and we're pretty lucky," Dehling said.
Christy Prindle, the mother, had the least critical injuries, and she was released from the hospital. Yesterday she released a statement.
John Barrett, a spokesman for the hospital where 2-year-old Annika was still being treated, read from that statement:
"We would like to thank our incredible neighbors, and the Hugo and White Bear Lake emergency personnel for all they did. They responded within minutes of the tornado hitting and pulled us out of the wreckage. They also provided blankets, towels, comfort and performed CPR on our daughter Annika. Everyone involved demonstrated such kindness and compassion. We are asking now for prayers for Annika and Gerry Prindle as they recover," the statement said.
Amidst all the chaos on Fenway Avenue, it might have been easy to miss the memorial that was already going up for Nathaniel.
At the end of the Prindles' driveway, between a downed basketball hoop and a fallen tree branch, someone had stuck a small cross into the ground.
The cross was obviously a piece of a wooden structure that had been much bigger, but the pieces had been snapped into its new shape during the storm.
- Morning Edition, 05/27/2008, 7:25 a.m.