Havoc on Albert Lea area farms after stormsby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Albert Lea, Minn. — A pair of storms swept tornadoes for more than 20 miles yesterday in southern Minnesota.
The severe weather knocked out power and devastated a handful of farms near Albert Lea. For some, their livelihoods were all but wiped out by the storm.
The storm blew down Doug Steele's pigs' home, but they were reluctant to even leave the wreckage this morning, as Steele's neighbors started herding them out of what was left of the confinement barn on the south side of his farm.
But go they must, Steele said as he surveyed what was left of his 3,200-head hog farm.
"It's a wean to finish and then it's a soybean and grain farm and I guess it's pretty well gone, I think," Steele said. "I guess get the pigs out of here, clean off the top and rebuild the barns. So that's not an issue. Grain bins? We'll see what happens from there."
Not to mention his house. A six-by-six beam from one of his barns sticks out of one wall, the roof is dimpled with holes and the windows are blown out. But Steele, his wife Stacy and their three young boys all survived without a scratch.
Their farmstead was directly in the path of the storms that swept across south central Minnesota, stretching from the Iowa border to north of Interstate 90.
The storms started along the state line, in Faribault County, and hit the small town of Kiester first. Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley followed it in his squad car, and even had time to videotape the funnel on his phone as it headed for town.
"We had a house that had the roof blown off on the south side of town. And all the contents were fine inside the house, but the garage was destroyed and a lot of the outbuildings and the garage," Gormley said. "We've got a lot of tree damage in town here, with some structural damage, but not a whole lot. No injuries, thank goodness, but a lot of trees and that's where the cleanup efforts are today."
People in neighboring Freeborn County weren't so lucky as the storms progressed.
County officials said 15 people were injured, one of them fatally, as twisters skipped across the open farmland between Albert Lea and Blue Earth around dinner time.
Freeborn County Sheriff Mark Harig says a couple living just outside Albert Lea on the north side of Interstate 90 were the most seriously hurt.
"I know we had a mobile home that was blown away. It just disintegrated and I believe the lady living in the residence was deceased and her husband transferred to Rochester," Harig said. "I don't know if he's in critical condition, but he was very serious last night."
Authorities identified the woman as 66-year-old Kathy Woodside, whose small farmhouse had no basement.
Besides the human toll, officials tallied up the structural damage as the sun rose this morning. Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever says the first count of damaged buildings put the number over 60, and many of them were total losses.
"If you know Freeborn County at all, it went through the rural areas of the county, therefore farms and small acreage homesteads, barns, sheds, those types of structures were in the way of the tornado, as were several hog confinement operations," Kluever said. "So we have animal issues out there. Several feed lots, so that compounds it."
One of those hog farms belonged to Beth Zeller and her husband, Jeff. They were both in Des Moines yesterday afternoon -- Beth visiting her grandson and Jeff driving a delivery truck. Neighbors called and told them their farm had been badly damaged.
"We're missing a great big machine shed and two cattle sheds, and a large pig confinement building. And there's a steel Quonset, three grain bins that are ruined," Zeller said. "The dryer's gone. Our house was damaged and lots of trees, and most of our machinery is gone. We found one tractor that looks to be okay, and that's pretty much it."
Beth Zeller says it was heartening to come home and find friends and family, even strangers at her home, trying to herd up her cattle and patch up the roof of her home, but even that may be for naught. Her house may be damaged beyond repair.
"My husband and I looked at each other and it's like where do we start? I mean, look at this. This is our livelihood and where do we start?" she said. "But we're both really thankful we weren't home and didn't get hurt, and in the long run, that's all that matters."
Officials in the area says it may be days before they tally up the total damage, and get power restored and roads cleared from the tornado's path.
- All Things Considered, 06/18/2010, 3:25 p.m.