Tornado-ravaged Hugo continues to dig outby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Hundreds of people volunteered Saturday to help clean up damage from the tornado that hit Hugo last weekend. It was a full day of effort - a day that ended with another round of severe weather. Strong storms rolled through including several tornado warnings, one of which included Hugo. The storm dumped more rain onto the soggy remains of neighborhoods that were already wrecked.
Hugo officials say they've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they received after last weekend's tornado. The storm destroyed 50 homes and damaged hundreds more in the area.
The cleanup effort went so well, officials cancelled plans for a disaster meeting last night.
Hugo, Minn. — Volunteers arrived by the hundreds throughout the day on Saturday. But before they could even get their hands dirty, they first got a few safety tips.
"Because the last thing we want to do for Hugo is give them any more disaster than they already have going on," Cindy Johnson of Lutheran Social Services told volunteers.
Johnson spent much of the day coaching volunteers on how to handle dangerous materials. But she also encouraged them to look beyond the physical.
"When in doubt, when you're ever thinking about what you might do with something just turn it around," Johnson told volunteers. "Say 'if this was mine and suddenly every single thing I own was strewn for miles and strangers were walking through it, what would I want them to do with it,' and then I know that you will make the right decision."
After the workshop, the volunteers headed to shuttle buses that would take them to the hardest hit areas. As they made their way outside, they were handed work gloves, plastic bags and other supplies.
"There you go, this is for personal belongings in case you find any of those," Johnson told volunteers.
Sandra and Evan Hartman were taking the bus with their sons. Their friends' house is on a street that suffered some of the storms' worst damage. Many houses on the street are gone, and they were a little nervous about what they were about to see.
The bus fell silent as they surveyed the damage out the window.
"Look at the houses, barely 100 yards away that are practically untouched. All the video in the world just doesn't do it justice really," Evan Hartman said.
And then they arrived at their friends' home, and it really started to sink in for Sandra Hartman.
"This was their garage," Sandra said. "Yeah, this was the garage and the kitchen was right back there."
Homeowner Jeff Janus was busy organizing an army of family and friends who were helping him sort through his belongings.
"My whole tool bench fell over, so there are hand tools and everything all over, scattered down all over there so we are seeing what we can find and the rest is going in the garbage," Janus said.
As the Hartmans got to work, Janus recalled when the tornado hit. He said he's lucky to be alive, because he never made it to his basement.
"As soon as it hit, the two doors blew over the top of me, and that saved me from the flying glass and stuff like that so that was a good thing. I just got a few little nicks and cuts and bruise on my hip but other than that," Hartman said.
Most of his house is gone, and what's left is hazardous. He also lost a new car and a boat to the storm.
Janus and his wife are staying nights at a hotel and spending their days cleaning. He hopes to salvage everything worth keeping by Tuesday, so the house can be demolished on Wednesday.
Janus says they've got no choice but to move on. He says they plan to start building a new house in the same spot.
Sandra Hartman said she's hoping her friends are back in their house in time for the holidays. It's their tradition to celebrate together around the Christmas tree.
"There is not a bare spot on their tree. I think they live for Christmas, they really do. They decorate their yard, their house and they've just got this spirit and I just want to see it back," Sandra said.
You could already see signs of that in the front yard, where the family had piled some Christmas decorations they salvaged from the storm.
Damage in Hugo is estimated at around $25 million. The city will start accepting building permits next week. Officials say they've brought in extra staff to get ready.